Your Cart is Empty

What Causes Incontinence In Elderly?

May 17, 2024

What Causes Incontinence In Elderly?

Urinary incontinence in the elderly is a prevalent issue that significantly impacts quality of life, yet it is not a normal part of aging. Understanding the causes and management of incontinence can help improve the lives of affected individuals.

Key Takeaways

  • Urinary incontinence in older adults is often linked to physical changes, medical conditions, and the effects of certain medications.
  • It is a misconception that incontinence is a normal part of aging; it can stem from reversible causes and is often treatable.
  • There are several types of incontinence, such as stress, urge, overflow, and mixed, each with different triggers and management strategies.
  • Lifestyle factors, mobility limitations, and chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular issues can exacerbate incontinence.
  • Accurate diagnosis is crucial for effective management, involving clinical evaluations and sometimes advanced diagnostic tools.

Understanding Urinary Incontinence in the Elderly

Definition and Overview

Urinary incontinence, while not a normal part of aging, is prevalent among the elderly and can significantly impact their quality of life and independence. It is crucial to distinguish between the types of urinary incontinence—stress, urge, overflow, and mixed—as each type has different triggers and management strategies.

Importance of Addressing Incontinence

Addressing urinary incontinence in the elderly is essential not only for improving their quality of life but also for reducing economic burdens. In 2012, urinary incontinence cost the US economy approximately $66 billion. A structured approach to managing incontinence can alleviate both personal and societal costs.

Misconceptions About Aging and Incontinence

It is a common misconception that urinary incontinence is an inevitable part of aging. This belief can prevent older adults from seeking necessary medical advice and treatment. Educating both the public and healthcare providers about the causes and treatments of incontinence is crucial for improving outcomes in elderly care.

Primary Causes of Urinary Incontinence in Older Adults

Physical Changes and Medical Conditions

Urinary incontinence in the elderly is often linked to physical changes and various medical conditions. As individuals age, the muscles in the bladder and urethra lose some of their strength. Conditions such as diabetes, stroke, and diseases affecting the nervous system can significantly exacerbate this issue. Incontinence in the elderly impacts quality of life with bladder or bowel control issues.

Impact of Medications

Many medications can contribute to or exacerbate urinary incontinence. Diuretics, sedatives, and muscle relaxants are common examples. It is crucial to review medication regimens regularly with healthcare providers to manage or mitigate these effects. 

Functional and Cognitive Decline

Functional and cognitive declines are also significant factors in urinary incontinence among older adults. Conditions like Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia can impair an individual's ability to recognize the need to use the restroom. Mobility issues further complicate the ability to reach a bathroom in time. Understanding these challenges is essential for managing incontinence effectively. 

Types of Urinary Incontinence Affecting the Elderly

Stress Incontinence

Stress incontinence occurs when physical movements or activities like coughing, sneezing, laughing, or exercising put pressure on the bladder, causing leakage. It is particularly common among older women due to weakened pelvic floor muscles, often exacerbated by childbirth and menopause.

Urge Incontinence

This type of incontinence is characterized by a sudden, intense urge to urinate followed by an involuntary loss of urine. It may be associated with conditions affecting the bladder or nervous system. Managing urge incontinence often involves a combination of medication, pelvic floor exercises, and sometimes, bladder training techniques.

Overflow and Mixed Incontinence

Overflow incontinence, which involves the bladder not emptying completely, leads to frequent or constant dribbling of urine. Mixed incontinence combines symptoms of both stress and urge incontinence, presenting a complex challenge for management. Effective treatment for mixed incontinence requires a comprehensive approach that addresses all underlying issues.


Role of Chronic Diseases in Incontinence

Diabetes and Neurological Disorders

Chronic diseases such as diabetes and neurological disorders significantly impact urinary incontinence in the elderly. Diabetes often leads to nerve damage that affects bladder control, resulting in incontinence. Neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis, can interfere with nerve signals involving bladder control, leading to an inability to manage urination effectively.

Cardiovascular Diseases

Cardiovascular diseases can also influence urinary incontinence. Conditions like heart failure and peripheral artery disease can lead to fluid retention, increasing the urgency and frequency of urination. Managing these conditions can indirectly improve incontinence issues.

Impact of Previous Surgeries

Previous surgeries, particularly those involving the pelvic area or spinal cord, can have a lasting impact on urinary control. Surgeries such as prostatectomies in men or hysterectomies in women can lead to weakened pelvic muscles or nerve damage, contributing to incontinence. Rehabilitation and targeted exercises can help mitigate some of these effects.

Chronic conditions often require long-term management strategies to handle the symptoms of urinary incontinence. It is crucial to understand that while some interventions may alleviate the symptoms, the underlying conditions may persist. 

Influence of Lifestyle and Mobility on Incontinence

Physical Activity Levels

Physical activity plays a crucial role in managing incontinence in the elderly. A sedentary lifestyle can weaken the pelvic floor muscles, which are vital for bladder control. Engaging in regular physical activities, such as walking or pelvic floor exercises, can significantly strengthen these muscles and reduce the incidence of incontinence. Regular exercise is recommended to maintain muscle tone and overall bladder health.

Nutritional Factors

Diet also impacts urinary incontinence. Certain foods and beverages can exacerbate symptoms, including caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods. A balanced diet rich in fiber can help prevent constipation, which is often a contributing factor to incontinence. It is essential for individuals to monitor their fluid intake and adjust their diet accordingly to manage symptoms effectively.

Mobility Limitations

Mobility issues can greatly influence the occurrence of incontinence. Conditions such as arthritis or Parkinson’s disease may impede an individual's ability to reach the bathroom in a timely manner, leading to accidents. Functional incontinence, where individuals are physically unable to reach the toilet due to mobility or cognitive impairments, is particularly prevalent among the elderly. Addressing these mobility challenges through the use of assistive devices or home modifications is crucial for reducing the risk of incontinence.


Diagnostic Approaches and Initial Assessments

Clinical Evaluations

The initial step in addressing urinary incontinence (UI) in the elderly involves comprehensive clinical evaluations. This process begins with a detailed review of the patient's medical and medication history to identify potential reversible causes of UI. A thorough physical examination is conducted, assessing the abdomen, genitals, pelvis, and rectum to rule out physical contributors to incontinence. Cognitive, dexterity, and mobility evaluations are also integral to understanding the full scope of the patient's condition.

Use of Diagnostic Tools

To accurately diagnose the type of UI, various diagnostic tools are employed. These include urinalysis and urine culture to check for infections or abnormalities, and blood tests to assess kidney function. Measurement of post-void residual volume, either through catheterization or ultrasonography, helps determine how much urine remains in the bladder after urination. Simple cystometry can also be performed to measure bladder capacity and stability.

Importance of Accurate Diagnosis

An accurate diagnosis is crucial for effective management of UI. It ensures that the treatment plan is tailored to the specific type of incontinence, whether it be stress, urge, or another form. Misdiagnosis can lead to ineffective treatment and prolonged discomfort.

Management and Treatment Options for Elderly Incontinence

Non-Surgical Interventions

Non-surgical interventions are often the first line of treatment for urinary incontinence in the elderly. These may include behavioral modifications, pelvic floor muscle exercises, and bladder training. Scheduled toileting and the use of absorbent products can also provide significant relief and help manage symptoms effectively. Environmental adjustments, such as easy access to bathrooms and the use of portable commodes, can enhance the quality of life for those affected.

Surgical Treatments

In cases where non-surgical methods are insufficient, surgical options may be considered. These procedures aim to improve bladder control and reduce the frequency of incontinence episodes. Common surgical treatments include sling procedures, bladder neck suspension, and the injection of bulking agents. It is crucial to assess the individual's overall health and the specific type of incontinence before proceeding with surgical interventions.

Lifestyle and Behavioral Modifications

Lifestyle changes are a vital part of managing urinary incontinence in the elderly. Increasing physical activity can strengthen pelvic muscles, while adjusting fluid intake and diet can minimize symptoms. Behavioral therapies, such as bladder training and double voiding, teach individuals how to control their bladder more effectively. It is important to tailor these modifications to the individual's needs and health status to ensure the best outcomes.


In conclusion, incontinence in the elderly is a multifaceted issue that is influenced by a variety of factors, including physiological changes, medical conditions, and lifestyle factors. It is crucial to understand that while incontinence is more common in older adults, it is not an inevitable part of aging. Effective management and treatment are possible, and they require a comprehensive approach that considers the underlying causes, which can range from physical ailments like prostate enlargement and diabetes to factors such as medication side effects and mobility limitations. Addressing incontinence with appropriate medical guidance can significantly enhance the quality of life and independence of elderly individuals, underscoring the importance of not dismissing it as a mere consequence of aging.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most common causes of incontinence in the elderly?

The most common causes include weakened pelvic floor muscles, diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's, stroke, and side effects of medications and surgery. It is not caused by aging alone.

Is urinary incontinence a normal part of aging?

No, urinary incontinence is not a normal part of aging but is common in older adults due to various health conditions and physical changes.

What types of urinary incontinence affect the elderly?

The main types affecting the elderly are stress, urge, overflow, and mixed incontinence. Each type has different symptoms and causes.

How does lifestyle influence urinary incontinence in the elderly?

Lifestyle factors such as physical activity levels, nutrition, and mobility can influence the severity and management of incontinence.

What should be done if there is a sudden change in urinary continence in an elderly person?

A sudden change should prompt an evaluation for reversible causes such as infections, constipation, or medication side effects.

Can urinary incontinence in the elderly be treated?

Yes, even chronic incontinence can sometimes be successfully treated with non-surgical interventions, surgical treatments, and lifestyle modifications.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.