Secondary Causes of Incontinence

Jasmine Schmidt Health Guide
  • The question was raised in response to my last SharePost: does the aging process not result in incontinence due to lack of mobility or dexterity? The answer is that it is certainly possible.


    As I always say, incontinence is a symptom of something else that is happening in the body. It is not a disease in and of itself. For example, incontinence can be the result of a weak sphincter (the muscle that clamps off the urethra, which is the tube that brings the urine from the bladder out of your body) or a neurological problem, perhaps due to a condition like MS. When everything with the bladder and/or bowel seems to be in normal working order, but leakage is still happening for other reasons, we call that functional incontinence.

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    There are two main causes of functional incontinence. The first cause is the one listed above: basic problems with reaching and using a toilet in time due to challenges with mobility (such as being slowed down by using a walker) or dexterity (such as arthritis). These are common conditions experienced as people age. The bladder is lined with muscles and nerves that send messages to the brain when the bladder expands and becomes full, and that message tells you that it's time to start making your way to the bathroom. The entire urinary process may be working perfectly normal - your bladder fills up, you get the message, and you start heading to find a toilet - but it now takes you longer to actually get to the toilet, or unbutton your pants, or any number of other obstacles. As a result, you may leak a little or a lot before you take a seat on the toilet.


    The other cause of functional incontinence is any form of dementia that can cause confusion. The confused individual can misinterpret the brain signal that is telling them it's time to find a bathroom, or they can become confused about the correct location to urinate, often urinating in a plant in the corner of the living room or some other inappropriate location. In the case of dementia, creating an easy and open pathway to the bathroom is essential. It may also be helpful to leave the bathroom door open, and perhaps even the light on at all times.


    Whatever the cause of functional incontinence, using an absorbent product for "backup" protection may be helpful. However, it's important to use a product that doesn't hinder the process, thus creating yet another obstacle. Be aware that individuals with dementia may become agitated upon finding an absorbent product wrapped around them while trying to use the toilet. If heavy leakage is unlikely, it may be best to use a pad type of product that can be placed into the underwear.


    Timed voiding can also be helpful in the case of functional incontinence. By charting how often you or the person you are caring for has to use the bathroom, you can attempt to be "ahead of the game". If you realize you urinate every two hours, start heading for the toilet a few minutes before the next trip is due so that you're prepared and ready.


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    I hope these tips help. If you have any other feedback that may help others, please write your comment below! Have a great week.

Published On: October 12, 2007