Healthy Ageing: Understanding Incontinence

By Dr. Paromita Sengupta

Urinary incontinence is common in older people. Unfortunately, out of all the health issues which come up with aging, troublesome bladder is the most challenging one. The most common types of urinary incontinence are stress incontinence (a condition in which you lose urine during general physical movement or activities like coughing, laughing, sneezing or exercising) and overactive bladder incontinence (an urge to urinate so intense you lose urine before you’re able to get to the toilet). Sometimes, the bladder does not empty, and the person experiences frequent leaking of urine. This condition is called overflow incontinence. Many a time, due to old age or health conditions like arthritis, it gets difficult for a person to reach the bathroom on time, and they might end up soiling the clothes, a condition called functional incontinence. 

The cause can be many, including a weak bladder muscle, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, an enlarged prostate in men, to name a few.

Many a time elders feel embarrassed and live in denial of incontinence. Initially, for many years, my 75-year old aunt could conceal it from us. She would rush to the toilet, hide the dirty clothes and clean them later, or sometimes discard the heavily soiled ones. With years, it became difficult for her to hide away her challenges. Now, to bring up the topic of diapers in the open air seemed extremely tough.  It was not easy for me to persuade the woman who used to change my diapers and taught me to change my son’s diaper, to start using diapers for herself. However, the conversation did take place with a few drops of tears and tight hugs, and with a promise to remain strong, happy and transparent to each other. Aunt agreed to share her diaper related issues with me. Initially, adjusting to the new ornament was not easy for her. She always felt itchy, sweaty, and complained of rashes. There were days when she would deliberately forget to wear them or hid the last few pieces and say that there were no more diapers left in the packet. With time, for her, diapers became as indispensable as her spectacles. Today, my aunt uses diapers regularly. She has also started to do yoga and other pelvic floor exercises to strengthen her bladder muscles. She encourages her peer group to wear diapers, do exercises and remain happy.

The elderly care market is sensitive to the fact that seniors feel embarrassed to buy/wear adult diapers. They have come up with simple solutions to normalize the situation. A recent article posted in huffingtonpost post mentions how companies are trying various methods to change attitudes, including making products more discreet, avoiding terms like diapers or nappies, and placing items in the personal care aisle, next to deodorants and menstrual pads, rather than in the baby products section.

The family members and caregivers should support the elderly to discuss their problems openly and together as a team, try to find a solution. Elders should be encouraged to exercise regularly to strengthen the pelvic and bladder muscles, eat healthy, control body weight, and visit doctors to discuss incontinence. When in need, they should be supported to wear diapers, happily and confidently.

In the coming weeks, AllForSRS will share articles on the conservative ways to treat urinary incontinence.

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  • Virendra N Kashyap

    I totally agree with you on this issue. Seniors have to accept this a necessity and not feel embarrassed about it. This is an age related condition and as individuals can, as suggested by you, try to improve the bladder control with yoga. I do hope people get out of the denial mode and live a healthy life.

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