By Trena Winans, Senior Services Education & Community Outreach Director
Incontinence tends to be a sensitive topic, and if we talk about it at all, we tend to joke, but in reality, this is a health issue with a serious impact on the lives of over 50% of Americans above the age of 65.
What brought the topic to mind was a recent comment by an attendee in one of my fitness classes. To paraphrase, she said that as a lady over 50, she doesn’t do jumping. What she was implying has some validity. Women who have been through menopause are particularly prone to have trouble with stress incontinence and are far more likely to struggle with bladder control issues than their male peers, although men do also experience incontinence in significant numbers.
It’s not just that most people find incontinence embarrassing that makes it a challenge. There can also be significant expense—emotionally and financially. Many people with incontinence reduce their activities and isolate themselves, missing out on social and physical engagement. For those being cared for by another person, it is a major risk for nursing home placement. For others, it is simply a nuisance.
The good news is that there are several steps one can take that may help.
Manage Your Weight Extra pounds and incontinence tend to go hand in hand, and so many people find losing weight can reduce or eliminate their incontinence.
Stop Smoking Among other health impacts, quitting can reduce coughing, which often brings on stress incontinence.
Reduce Bladder Irritating Foods and Drinks There are numerous parts of your diet that may be contributing factors. These include citrus, chocolate, tomatoes, vinegar, dairy, aspartame, spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine. You could try eliminating one at a time to see if they reduce your symptoms.
Prevent or Treat Constipation Straining with bowel movements can weaken your pelvic floor muscles. Eating plenty of fiber and staying well hydrated, plus getting exercise, are all great ways to reduce constipation.
Get Physical Studies have shown that physically active people are less likely to develop
Do Pelvic Floor Exercises Kegels can help strengthen your pelvic floor. Here are instructions published by the National Institute on Aging (NIA): Locate your pelvic muscles by stopping the flow of urine midstream. Empty your bladder, lie down, squeeze and hold these muscles for a count of three, then relax them for a count of three. Do this 10 times. Your goal is to do at least three sets of 10 each day.
Talk to Your Physician Your doctor may be able to offer a prescription, cream, biofeedback, therapy or surgery that could help. Let them know what you’re struggling with and get their expert help. Consider keeping a bladder diary to share with him or her at your next visit.
A Special Note for Caregivers According to the NIA, to minimize the chance of accidents, the caregiver can:
- Avoid giving drinks like caffeinated coffee, tea, and some sodas that increase urination. But don’t limit water.
- Keep the pathways clear and the bathroom clutter-free with a light on at all times.
- Make sure you provide regular bathroom breaks.
- Supply underwear that is easy to get on and off.
- Use absorbent underclothes for trips away from home.
If you need incontinence supplies but struggle with the cost, the Diaper Alliance discreetly helps at no charge and with no proof of income required. Call 495-9226 to request the assistance you need.
Whatever you do to manage incontinence, I encourage you to stay active and involved in your life. Bladder issues may pose a challenge, but they need not stop you from living an engaged and fulfilling life.