Why is Incontinence in Elderly Females so Common?

A recent cohort study found that incontinence affects more than a fifth of people aged over 85 years old.

 

Urinary incontinence is much more common in older people and is associated with considerable morbidity. 20% of community dwelling older adults have enough incontinence to limit some aspect of their lives. It is associated with considerable morbidity. The risk of incontinence, however, is much higher in older females. It is that is thought that up to 50% of older women suffer from urinary incontinence.

Dr Fleming, president at ACP asserts, “Urinary incontinence is a common problem for women that is often under-reported and under-diagnosed”.

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Why is Incontinence in Elderly Females so Common?

Risk Factors for Seniors

Seniors are more at risk of nerve damage, mobility issues and arthiritis. Problems with nerve damage affect the communication between the brain and the bladder. Parkinson’s disease is a common problem that causes individuals to lack control over their bladder. Mobility issues can cause functional incontinence, making it hard to reach the toilet and buy the correct products. In addition to this, seniors are also more likely to develop cognitive problems such as Dementia.

 

Changes to the Female Bladder

Elderly women differ from younger females by the presence of several changes in the urinary tract. As you get older, the bladder also changes. A woman's elastic bladder tissue toughens and becomes less stretchy with age. A less stretchy bladder doesn’t hold as much urine as before, causing you to urinate more frequently. The bladder wall and pelvic floor muscles also weaken with age, making it harder to empty the bladder fully.

Older women are also more likely to get UTIs as the bladder muscles weaken and make it hard to empty the bladder fully.

Health Factors Exclusive to Women

There are a number of key factors exclusive to women that play a factor in causing incontinence. Common contributing factors are the following:

  • Menopause. Oestrogen plays a vital role in continence mechanism with the bladder and urethral function becoming less efficient with age. During menopause, the body suddenly stops producing oestrogen. This can cause lack of bladder control.
  • Pregnancy. The weight of pregnancy puts extra pressure on the bladder, weakening the muscles. Childbirth further damages these muscles through the stretching and strain of the muscles during birth.
  • Hysterectomy. A hysterectomy is an operation to remove a woman’s uterus. This can also remove some structures that are required to provide pelvic support for bladder control.

 

The combination of these factors can alter the condition of the bladder and pelvic floor. This makes incontinence much likely later in life.

Find out how reduced oestrogen can cause female incontinence.

Although not exclusive to women, obesity is another key risk factor for incontinence in elderly females. In fact, this factor is a common cause of leaks along with a hysterectomy.

Interesting Fact:

Incontinence in Older Women is more Common than most Chronic Medical Conditions!

Older People and Seeking Treatment

Older people are more likely to delay seeking help for urinary incontinence. Symptoms are often also poorly managed in care. Drug treatments and conservative treatments have been proven to work in older people. However, older people still remain under treated. Embarrassment may be a key cause for this. Linda Brubaker, MS, professor of female pelvic medicine and Loyal University Chicago School of Medicine, states, “female incontinence is embarrassing. It can really affect your quality of life-your emotional state, body image, sexuality”. One main reason as to why senior women don’t seek help is due to normalizing the condition. We all know that incontinence is more prevalent in older people, so women often feel like they should just accept it. Brubaker asserts, "many women think it’s normal, part of having children or going into menopause and don’t seek help."

Is your incontinence caused by nerve damage? Read more about Neurogenic Bladder 

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