elderly women sleeping in bed

Although aging can cause an individual to develop incontinence, not all losses of bladder control stem from entering the elderly years. Even older individuals may trace their incontinence to another cause.

Incontinence Symptoms

How do you know when you're experiencing symptoms of elderly incontinence, as opposed to an occasional brush with leakage? Typically, you will notice more than a few of the following symptoms occurring regularly:

  • sudden urges to urinate.
  • urinating frequently.
  • waking up multiple times during the night to urinate.
  • urinating while you sleep.
  • leaking urine while exercising, laughing hard, coughing, or sneezing.

Consult your doctor if you can check off any of the symptoms, especially urinating in your sleep. Your physician may have you try a simple fix of scaling back on your liquids intake to a normal 64 ounces of water per day and eliminating other liquids for a few days. If you still feel frequent urges to go to the bathroom, this provides a simple method of determining that.

Here's the thing about frequent urination: frequency varies by individual. One individual might normally urinate four times per day, while another may pee seven times per day. Your baseline, meaning what normal means for you, comes down to your diet, including the amount of water you drink each day, your age, and your activity level.

What Causes Urinary Incontinence?

Aside from aging, many things can cause urinary issues, such as feeling like you “need to go” frequently. This list includes some innocuous items that you might not have considered, including the following:

  • serious constipation.
  • side effects of some medicines.
  • some foods.
  • poorly developed or weak pelvic floor muscles.
  • changes in the body from surgery.
  • obesity.
  • some more serious conditions and diseases.

Although rare in the elderly, pregnancy and childbirth can also cause a woman to develop urinary incontinence. A growing number of women ages 65 and older turn to IVF treatments to have children that they cannot naturally conceive, so they can experience becoming a mother. According to IGI Global, the internationally recognized age for the elderly begins at 60 years, but the US uses 65 years of age.

Help with Controlling the Bladder

Your physician can determine the cause of your urinary incontinence and the type. This offers a starting point for treatment, including how to handle incontinence in the elderly at night. The different types of incontinence include the following:

  • stress (pressure) incontinence,
  • overactive bladder,
  • urge (frequent and sudden) incontinence,
  • overflow incontinence,
  • poorly developed muscles of the pelvic floor,
  • neurological disorder,
  • functional (disability associated) incontinence.

What Does Stress Incontinence Mean?

Regardless of their age, many individuals have sneezed, coughed, or laughed so hard that they lost control of their bladder momentarily. Medical science refers to that leakage as stress incontinence. This type of leakage can also occur due to lifting a heavy object. Typically, this type of incontinence won't affect an individual while they sleep.

Controlling Bladder Overactivity

Depending on the cause of an overactive bladder, your physician might prescribe medication to control the problem. Beta3 agonists help relax the bladder muscle so it can hold more urine, while anticholinergics (ACHs) help stop involuntary contraction of the bladder. Some issues may simply require you to reduce your fluid intake, especially at night. This includes drinking less alcohol and caffeine. Other options include weight loss, bladder retraining, and Kegel exercises to strengthen pelvic muscles. While you undergo treatment, you could wear a liner in your undergarments or an absorbent pad during your sleep.

    Treating the Cause of Urge Incontinence

    Mayo Clinic defines urge incontinence as experiencing a sudden need to urinate, followed by leakage. This can lead to you having to go more often at night. Causes of this urge include infections, diabetes, and serious medical conditions. Once your doctor identifies the cause of your urination urges, they'll develop a treatment plan specifically for your condition. Treating an infection involves taking antibiotics, while diabetes typically requires insulin. While undergoing treatment for this type of elderly incontinence, you could sleep in briefs specifically designed for these conditions. The designs look like regular panties or briefs on the exterior but include an absorbent interior that catches leakage, so you sleep dry.

    Controlling Overflow

    When urine dribbles onto your underwear after you've gone to the toilet, doctors refer to this as overflow incontinence. It occurs because your bladder does not completely empty while you use the toilet. In less serious cases, bladder retraining or medication, such as an alpha-adrenergic blocker, can solve the problem. More severe issues may require surgery, self-catheterization, or indwelling catheterization. A simple panty liner or thin pad for briefs can absorb the overflow while you sleep.

    pelvic floor exercises

    Exercises for Developing Pelvic Floor Muscles

    When a physician finds that poorly developed, weak pelvic floor muscles, or pelvic organ prolapse impact the bladder's ability to do its job, they may prescribe physical therapy to strengthen these muscles. The treatment includes a regime of Kegel exercises, simple tightening and releasing of the pelvic muscles that can improve bladder function. As a side benefit, these exercises can also improve a woman's enjoyment of sexual relations.

    Neurological Disorders

    Sometimes, incontinence signals a larger problem. It can develop as a symptom of a neurological disorder. Once your doctor examines you and runs tests, they'll determine if a neurological disorder causes your leakage and begin addressing it. Wearing incontinence panties or briefs at night can help you stay dry through the night while undergoing treatments for the underlying cause.

    Functional or Disability-Associated Incontinence

    Some elderly individuals find functional incontinence the most frustrating form because it stems from a mental or physical impairment that stops them from quickly reaching the toilet in time. Examples of this include arthritis that complicates unbuttoning or unzipping your pants, causing you to urinate before getting your pants down. In this form, your bladder works just fine. Your doctor may develop strategies with you to address the problem. They may recommend you switch to pants with an elastic waistband, so you don't have to undo the ties of sweatpants or buttons or snaps of jeans or slacks. These simple changes can help you effectively manage your situation at night and during the day.

    In Conclusion

    You can manage urinary incontinence. Early detection of the problem and consulting a physician can speed you to a solution. Many medications can reduce symptoms, and some exercises can help you develop stronger pelvic muscles. Weight loss frequently improves the bladder's condition and some other types of elderly incontinence. Contact your doctor today for an appointment to address the problem.