By treating overactive bladder in older adults, doctors may also be able to reduce the frequency of dangerous falls, according to a recent study of Medicare patients.
Overactive bladder, while not a disease, is a name given to a collection of symptoms that can be triggered by older age, or physiological changes. People with OAB often describe instant urges to use the bathroom, or even having to go to the bathroom much more frequently than others. If a person finds they are going to the bathroom eight times or more in 24 hours, it qualifies as, “frequent urination.”
It is that frequency and the urgency associated with OAB that presents a danger for older adults. Overactive bladder is highly unpredictable, and can cause symptoms at the least desirable time. So by moving quickly to try to get to the bathroom in time, or waking up frequently - especially in the middle of the night - older adults increase their risk of falling. And, falling during older age has greater potential to cause injuries. The risk for injury may be especially great if the falls occur on a higher level of a house, or late at night when a person is alone and may not be able to see where they’re going.
For the study, a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed medical histories of older adults who had filed Medicare claims. The scientists focused on claims for roughly 30,000 older adults with OAB, looking for a pattern in how many falls may have occurred, as well as if OAB treatment had any effect on how frequently someone fell. For each of the patients, researchers looked at the medical history up to a year before their OAB diagnosis, and then up to two years after. The patients had an average age of 77.7 years old.
Overall, the team found that an OAB diagnosis is strongly related to a higher risk of falling. While those without an OAB diagnosis had a 5.3 percent risk of falls, those who had been diagnosed had almost double the risk, at 10.3 percent. This equates to an overall 40 percent increased risk of falling in older adults with OAB.
The data also showed that treating OAB reduced falling risk by 8 percent, compared to those who did not receive treatment.
When separating different age groups, it seemed that those older than 84, the oldest grouping, were significantly more likely to suffer from falls, and may benefit most from treatment. Yet this was the same group found to be significantly less likely to get treatment for OAB. The researchers determined that only 6 percent of adults over 84 had sought OAB treatment.
The findings were presented at the 110th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Urological Association (AUA). Since the results have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, researchers say these results are preliminary. Experts added that the preliminary status may come from OAB being underdiagnosed in Medicare patients, due to the embarrassing or misunderstood nature of the condition. For that reason, they urged older adults to become more proactive about bladder screenings. This is important not only for those who are older and troubled by the symptoms, but also for caregivers.
Kristina Brooks is a gluten-free digital editor at HealthCentral, with a background in animal biology, ecology, and health science. While studying broadcast journalism, she discovered the great need for health reporters that could translate research to the public. In her work, she hopes to use research to help consumers make smart decisions about their healthcare, and empower patients to stay confident and in charge of their chronic conditions. Kristina works on the HealthySelf newsletter, as well as HealthCentral’s MythWeek.