Is Incontinence a Normal Part of Aging? Know the Causes and Find Out What You Can Do About it
Jessica Lubahn 9 min read
Maybe it slowly crept its way into your daily life, or maybe one day you woke up, and there it was: urinary incontinence.
It might only happen when you sneeze or cough, or perhaps it happens at any time of day.
Either way — you’ve had enough. Is incontinence a normal part of aging, or is there something you can do to stop those embarrassing leaks from happening?
Good news. You don’t have to live with incontinence as you age.
We’ll give you the skinny on what causes urinary incontinence as you age, available treatment options, and how to save yourself the embarrassment of unwanted leakage.
Table of Contents
- Is Urinary Incontinence a Normal Part of Aging?
- What Causes Urinary Incontinence as We Age?
- The 5 Types of Urinary Incontinence
- How Can I Stop Incontinence in Old Age?
Is Urinary Incontinence a Normal Part of Aging?
The simple answer is no. While the chances of experiencing urinary incontinence increase as we age, it should never be considered a normal occurrence.
Over time, tissues and muscles weaken, causing us to think incontinence is a normal part of aging. But, in reality, these changes have occurred due to certain life events, such as:
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Prostate problems in men
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Obesity; and
- Neurological conditions
Not only is incontinence not a normal part of aging, but you also don’t have to live with it as your status quo. Most of these conditions can be treated with:
- Lifestyle changes
- Minimally invasive procedures; or
Read on for more about the specific causes of urinary incontinence as we age and what can be done to treat it.
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Our underwear are thin, but super-absorbent, making embarrassing leaks a thing of the past.
ONDRwear was created by a trusted urologist who understands that:
- It may take time to restore normal bladder functioning.
- You shouldn’t have to wait to get back to doing the things you love.
What Causes Urinary Incontinence as We Age?
As we mentioned earlier, urinary incontinence isn’t caused by aging, it’s caused by a specific condition that may be more likely to occur as you age.
In addition to the conditions listed above, urinary incontinence can be caused simply by the muscle fibers in the bladder becoming a stiffer, fibrotic tissue. This can cause the neurological response that maintains bladder control to decline.
In a nutshell, this means:
- Older people don’t experience the sensation of needing to empty their bladder until it’s much fuller.
- The bladder muscles do not contract as forcefully as we age
- The frequency or urge to pass increases
- Older women have a looser urethral sphincter
- An enlarged prostate may obstruct the urethra in men
The bladder is responsible for two things: storing urine and emptying urine. If either of these isn’t functioning, there is typically an underlying cause.
How Is Urinary Incontinence Diagnosed?
It’s important to speak to your doctor if you are experiencing urinary incontinence. As we’ve said, there will likely be an underlying cause that should be addressed as soon as possible.
Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms by:
- Asking questions
- Conducting a physical exam; and
- Ordering some preliminary tests
To help your doctor better understand your issue, they may ask questions such as:
- How often does leakage occur?
- What activities cause urine leakage?
- How often do you urinate in a day?
- How much liquid are you consuming in a day?
- What medications are you taking?
Keeping a bladder diary for a few days will give your doctor valuable insight into your incontinence that will help them pinpoint the exact cause.
The 5 Types of Urinary Incontinence
Have you ever experienced urinary leakage after coughing, sneezing, or during exercise? This is stress incontinence.
Usually, stress incontinence occurs because of an imbalance in abdominal muscle strength and coordination.
The abdominal muscles our bodies engage during exercise or involuntary releases like coughing or sneezing can weaken over time (or due to childbirth or underlying illness).
Because these muscles aren't strong enough to engage fully, there is additional stress and pressure on your bladder and urethra.
Can Aging Cause Stress Incontinence?
If you have a sedentary lifestyle then over time your abdominal muscles will weaken. So, while it’s not age that is causing stress incontinence, the condition can develop or worsen with age simply because you’re not working to strengthen the muscles that support the bladder.
If you begin to experience stress incontinence as you age then your doctor will likely make lifestyle change recommendations, such as eating healthier and doing exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor.
Urge incontinence is marked by having a strong urge to pee coupled with involuntary leakage.
This type of incontinence can be triggered by the sound of running water or even just getting home from errands. The urge comes on strong and can cause panic if a restroom isn’t available.
It’s common for people with urge incontinence to experience urinary leakage with little to no warning.
Can Aging Cause Urge Incontinence?
Urge incontinence is not brought on by aging, it’s caused by abnormal bladder contractions. The muscles of an overactive bladder forcefully contract, overriding the sphincter muscles of the urethra.
In many cases, the cause of urge incontinence is unknown, however, certain conditions may be to blame, including:
- Poor bladder functioning caused by stroke or disease
- A damaged spinal cord; or
- An irritated bladder
While some of these conditions are more common as we age, it is not age itself that causes urge incontinence.
Overflow incontinence is an involuntary release of urine when the bladder becomes full, even though you may not feel the urge to urinate.
Symptoms may include:
- A sudden release of urine
- Urine leakage while sleeping
- A urine stream that stops and restarts during urination
- Feeling bladder fullness even after urination; and
- Difficulty releasing urine even while feeling the urge
Can Aging Cause Overflow Incontinence?
Aging does not cause overflow incontinence. Even though some conditions that cause overflow incontinence are more prevalent in older adults, age alone is not responsible for the condition.
Some causes of overflow incontinence include:
- Nervous system conditions, such as diabetes or MS
- Urinary blockages, such as a tumor, enlarged prostate (in men), or bladder stone
- Muscle weakness; and
- Certain medications
Functional incontinence doesn’t occur due to bladder problems, it occurs as a result of having physical limitations of getting to the toilet in time.
The issue is one of circumstance, rather than medical problems, and mainly occurs in people with mobility problems or when restrooms aren’t ADA accessible.
Can Aging Cause Functional Incontinence?
While it’s not caused by aging itself, functional incontinence is more common among senior citizens and older adults with mobility issues.
There are several common reasons for functional incontinence to occur. If you ...
- Require assistance getting onto the toilet
- Cannot move quickly enough to make it to the toilet in time
- Are unable to remove clothing in time
- Cannot transfer from a wheelchair independently
- Suffer from blindness or poor eyesight
- Have neurological or musculoskeletal conditions
- Are experiencing a temporary illness or injury
- Struggle with mental illness
- Are taking certain medications
… you may experience functional incontinence.
Mixed incontinence is a combination of urge and stress incontinence as it shares symptoms from both.
If you’re experiencing the following symptoms, you may have mixed incontinence:
- Jump; or
- Lift something heavy
- After feeling a sudden urge to go
- While sleeping
- Touching water or hearing it run; or
- After drinking a small amount of water
Can Aging Cause Mixed Incontinence?
As with all other types of incontinence, mixed incontinence is not directly related to, or caused by, age.
Mixed incontinence shares the causes of both urge and stress incontinence and may be a result of:
- Weakened muscles around the bladder as a result of childbirth, pregnancy, sneezing, coughing, and other factors.
- Involuntary bladder muscle actions due to damage to the nerves, the nervous system, or the muscles themselves. This can be caused by surgeries, strokes, or certain diseases.
How Can I Stop Incontinence in Old Age?
The best way to stop incontinence as you age is to see your doctor as soon as symptoms occur. Your doctor may suggest:
- Pelvic floor exercises
- Timed voiding
- Lifestyle changes; or
- Medical intervention
Even after treatment, urinary leakage may occur here and there. Using bladder control products can help. ONDRwear was specifically designed to prevent unwanted leaks from urinary incontinence.
Our super-absorbant, leak-proof underwear offer maximum protection, style, and comfort, so you can get back to doing the things you love — without the worry of embarrassing leaks.
How Is Urinary Incontinence Treated?
Depending on the causes of your urinary incontinence, your doctor will most likely start with the least invasive treatments, as listed above.
Sometimes medical intervention is required. These treatments may include:
- Estrogen vaginal cream
- Urethral inserts
- Nerve stimulation; and
The good news is that you don’t have to live with urinary incontinence every day. Nor do you have to feel embarrassed about it. Early intervention can make a big difference in the success of your treatment, so speak to your doctor today.
ONDRwear: Living and Aging With Incontinence Doesn’t Have to Be Embarrassing
Sustainable and eco-friendly, ONDRwear is not like single-use products such as pads or adult diapers.
Our liner is made from algae and beach wood fiber, which are naturally odor-free and don’t cause irritation to the most sensitive areas like the synthetic fibers used in other brands.
Dr. Jessica Lubahn, the founder of ONDR, is a urologist who understands the side effects of invasive treatments for incontinence. She knows that the frustration and embarrassment patients may feel about incontinence can be easily solved by providing a sustainable solution, such as leak-proof underwear.
The content in this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.