Incontinence in the Elderly

Incontinence is the involuntary excretion of urine or feces. While incontinence can happen to anyone, it’s far more common in older adults. The Mayo Clinic Health System reports that up to 75% of women over age 65 report urine leakage. Additionally, 60-70% of people with Alzheimer's eventually become incontinent. Although a multitude of older adults deal with incontinence issues, it is not a normal part of the aging process.

What Causes Incontinence?

Problems in the urinary system can be caused by aging, illness, or injury. The muscles in and around the bladder and urethra tend to become weaker with age. Weak muscles of the sphincters and pelvis can lead to urinary incontinence because the sphincter muscles cannot remain tight enough to hold urine in the bladder, or the bladder does not have enough support from the pelvic muscles to stay in its proper position. Weak bladder muscles may also result in not being able to empty the bladder completely.

Additionally, incontinence may be caused by medication interactions, vaginal or urinary tract infections, prostate problems and progressive diseases that lead to cognitive and physical decline. Functional incontinence is a type that occurs because of difficulties with toileting due to confusion or physical limitations in getting to the bathroom in time.

Caring for Someone with Incontinence

Unfortunately, many individuals who suffer with leakage or incontinence issues are resistant to seeking treatment due to shame or embarrassment. However, attempts to hide the problem from caregivers and medical providers may present a missed opportunity in treating or managing incontinence issues. Acute incontinence, caused by issues like urinary tract infections, diabetes, and medication interactions, is often treatable and even reversible by addressing underlying conditions and bladder control training.

Unfortunately, later stages of progressive conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, often lead to chronic incontinence which comes with its own physical and social consequences. Individuals experiencing chronic incontinence have higher rates of pressure ulcers, skin infections, and urinary tract infections as well as increased levels of embarrassment and depression. Fortunately, resources are available to cope with the impact of incontinence on quality of life for both older adults and their caregivers.

Browse AgingCare's collection of incontinence articles and Caregiver Q&A for expert advice and tips from a community of caregivers who truly understand the challenges of caring for a loved one with incontinence.

Incontinence Articles

  • Incontinence and Bladder Control in the Elderly

    Incontinence, the loss of bladder control, is extremely common among elderly people. Explore issues that cause incontinence and how it can be treated and controlled.

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  • The 4 Kinds of Urinary Incontinence

    Caring for an elderly parent with incontinence can be challenging. Start by understanding the four main kinds of incontinence: stress incontinence, urge incontinence, overflow and functional incontinence.

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  • How to Convince a Senior to Wear Adult Diapers

    Pro tip: Strike the word diaper from your vocabulary. There are ways to encourage a loved one to address incontinence issues, but they require patience, understanding and a commitment to upholding your loved one’s dignity.

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  • Elderly Incontinence Treatment Options

    Under a doctor's care, incontinence can be treated and often cured. Today there are more treatments for urinary incontinence than ever before.

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  • How to Choose the Best Adult Diaper

    There are many continence care products like “adult diapers” on the market for seniors who are living with urinary incontinence. Use these tips to find a product that fits well, minimizes leaks, helps maintain skin integrity and improves quality of life.

    24 Comments
  • Dementia and Incontinence: 10 Tips for Caregivers

    As cognition declines, what may start as incontinence events or “accidents” usually progresses into chronic incontinence issues for those with severe dementia.

    0 Comments
  • Caring for a Loved One with Fecal Incontinence

    Millions of adults have bowel control problems, but most are reluctant to talk about this condition and seek help. Get the information you need to start the discussion, explore treatment options and help your loved one improve their quality of life.

    9 Comments
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Incontinence Discussions

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Frequently Asked Questions about Incontinence

Q: What causes incontinence in older adults?
Incontinence can occur for many reasons. Sometimes incontinence is reversible through treatment, other times it becomes a chronic health condition. Learn More: Incontinence and Bladder Control in the Elderly
Q: How do you treat incontinence in the elderly?
Under a doctor's care incontinence can be treated and often cured. Learn the simplest and safest ways to: Manage Incontinence in Older Adults
Q: How do I find the best adult incontinence briefs?
Disposable absorbent underwear products, sometimes called “adult diapers” or briefs, help caregivers to manage incontinence in aging loved ones. Learn More: How to Choose the Best Adult Diaper
Q: Does dementia cause incontinence?
Incontinence issues are common in later stages of Alzheimer's and other types of dementia. Learn more about: Dementia and Incontinence
Q: Any ideas for dealing with dementia and toilet paper issues?
Incontinence and toileting issues are common in severe stages of dementia. Caregivers often report that incontinence is one of the most challenging care related issues. Read: My mother does not know what to do with toilet paper!