It isn't uncommon to hear that incontinence is a normal part of aging—something to be expected as we get older. In reality, incontinence is caused by something that isn't working quite right in the body. So, while incontinence is more common in the elderly, it is never "normal.” Here are some ways that your bladder function changes as you age.
1. Your kidneys no longer condense your urine as well as they once did, resulting in greater amounts of urine needing to be passed.
2. The bladder, which is elastic and stretches as it fills, becomes a bit smaller and holds less urine.
3. When you urinate, your bladder contracts to help push the urine out. As you age, the bladder's ability to contract decreases, sometimes leaving residual urine in the bladder.
4. Nerves in the bladder wall alert you to the need to urinate. When you get older, you may experience changes in your central nervous system that slow the message from the bladder, giving you less time to find a toilet.
5. Many women experience decreased strength and elasticity in their pelvic floor following the estrogen drop after menopause. This change can decrease sphincter control, making it harder to keep urine in when you experience physical stress such as laughing, coughing, or sneezing.
6. Men can experience an enlarged prostate as they age (BPH), affecting the bladder's ability to empty completely.
So, while aging in and of itself doesn't cause incontinence, it can affect your bladder control. Just as exercising the mind can benefit you as you age, you can also take steps to preserve strong bladder function.
- Allow your bladder to "exercise” by holding your urine longer. Emptying your bladder just because you’re going out doesn’t allow the bladder to stretch.
- Conversely, don’t hold your urine for too long. The bladder is a muscle, and if stretched to capacity at all times, it will begin to lose its elasticity. A safe rule to practice is to urinate every three to four hours.
- Don't smoke because the coughing that smokers experience can cause small tears in the pelvic floor, leading to stress urinary incontinence (SUI).
- Maintain your weight. Excessive weight puts extra pressure on your bladder and pelvic floor.
- Keep an open and honest dialogue going with your doctor. If you start to notice some leakage, he or she may be able to help you identify a medication that may be contributing to the issue, foods that could be eliminated from your diet, or any major medical problems of which incontinence may be a symptom.
Published On: August 04, 2008