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Determining the Causes of Urinary Incontinence

Also called "leaky bladder," urinary incontinence affects approximately 25% to 30% of older adults, and more women than men. One misnomer about incontinence is that it is a normal part of the aging process — It is not! If your parent is experiencing what you consider to be any form of incontinence, contact your parent's doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

If your parent is experiencing repeated episodes of involuntary loss or leakage of urine, he should see his doctor as soon as possible. Because your parent may be self-conscious about the incontinence, and uncomfortable about possible leakage or odors, he may isolate himself and become depressed. He may be embarrassed about admitting to having this kind of problem, even to a doctor; but, left untreated incontinence can cause skin irritation and infection, and lead to other, more serious medical issues.

Here's some help to determine the kind of incontinence your parent may be experiencing:

Different types of urinary incontinence:

  1. Transient incontinence is intuitive to its name; it is typically the result of a temporary change such as urinary tract infection, medications or severe constipation, and will correct itself once the situation is resolved.
  2. Stress incontinence happens most often in women as a result of weakened bladder muscles. Patients with stress incontinence typically experience bursts of urine leaking out following coughs, sneezes, strains or laughs. Another reason why stress incontinence is more common in women is that women lose estrogen during menopause, which may lead to weakness in the pelvic muscle.
  3. Overflow incontinence is the type of incontinence more common in elderly men who may have enlarged prostate glands. In this case the bladder stores more urine than it can handle, then the bladder becomes distended and urine leaks out.
  4. Urge incontinence causes people to feel an "urgent" need to urinate due to muscle spasms in the bladder. Factors such as infection, inflammation, strokes, dementia and prostate gland enlargement can stimulate the bladder to create spasms and cause urine loss.
  5. Total incontinence means urine leaks constantly; it is often caused by injury, surgery or disease.
  6. Functional incontinence is the loss of urinary control caused by the person's inability to get to a toilet. This kind of incontinence is most common among those whose physical capabilities have been affected by stroke, severe arthritis or other debilitating illness.
  7. Psychogenic incontinence is the kind of incontinence that results from a loss in mental function or emotional capacity. Most often, this condition occurs because of dementia due to acute diabetes or Alzheimer's, but sometimes can be a reflection of a severely depressed emotional state.
  8. Mixed incontinence, in which there are several factors or causes involved, is also possible. For example, many older women suffer from both urge and stress incontinence or urge and functional incontinence.