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Incontinence and Aging: It's Not Just Part of the Territory

Many people assume that incontinence is an inevitable part of aging and simply accept it for that reason or, worse, because they are too embarrassed to bring up the problem with their doctor, even a trusted doctor.

The first thing to know is that urinary incontinence is not part of the normal aging process. It isn't caused by your "older" plumbing. In fact, incontinence can be your body's way of telling you that you have an underlying medical problem.

The second point is that, because urinary incontinence is a problem for at least 30 percent of people over age 60, it's an issue your doctor is probably very familiar with—you won't be the first person who has asked about it. So check the embarrassment factor off your list.

The third fact to be aware of is that, in most cases, your primary or your urologist can find out the cause of your incontinence and, with the right treatment, may be able to greatly improve or even correct it. Some options are learning bladder training, doing pelvic muscle exercises, medication (or a change in medication) and, in some cases, surgery. Innovative procedures are being developed by urologists to correct severe problems within the urinary system itself.

Of course, there are terrific personal products available to keep urinary incontinence from keeping you housebound and causing any stress or embarrassment. They are essential for many people, even while getting treatment.

If you are reading this on behalf of a loved one with incontinence, the best thing you can do is encourage him or her to see the doctor. If feeling embarrassed is an issue, offer alternatives such as talking to a doctor of the same sex or a nurse in the doctor's office or having you or another family member bring it up for them.