Tuesday, 07 July 2009
Age and Leaky Old Pipes
The big-time diseases of age such as cancer, stroke, various heart problems, dementia, diabetes, etc. focus the mind. To the degree they are treatable, the intervention of a physician (or, several physicians) is necessary and in acute stages, they consume large amounts of time and attention. One becomes, for the duration, a professional patient.
Then there are the less life-threatening afflictions of growing old, among them arthritis, sleep difficulties, hearing loss, vision problems, osteoporosis and others. Some are treatable; others we accommodate each in our way.
There is another age-related ailment no one speaks of. It is considered too embarrassing to admit or discuss, so, of course, I will do so anyway: incontinence.
I have some experience with that, having cared for my mother during the final months of her life. Although she and I got through it with relative ease, trust me, telling your mother you are going to put her in diapers is not the most fun conversation you will ever have.
And now I have gained some up-close-and-personal acquaintanceship with it: lately, when I laugh, sneeze or cough with too much force, I leak. Or, more bluntly, I pee in my pants. Not a lot, a few drops, and it happens not just when I need to visit the bathroom; it can happen even when I have just peed.
A trip around medical sites on the web reveals that this is called stress incontinence. It affects about 35 percent of older women and you get an idea of the pervasiveness of the condition by googling the phrase, which turns up 370,000 results. So I assume I am not the only one in the TGB community with this problem.
In women, stress incontinence is usually due to weakened muscles in our plumbing brought on by pregnancy, childbirth and menopause. About half as many men are affected which, in them, can be a result of prostate surgery.
In addition to laughing, sneezing and coughing, leakage can occur when running, jogging, lifting heavy objects and during sex. According to several websites, embarrassment leads some people to limit their social lives, but there are solutions.
Kegel exercises are recommended. There are also drugs and several kinds of surgery although the latter seems extreme for a relatively minor problem. Me? I just buy special, thin pantiliners now that do the trick when I leak. I've tucked a couple into every handbag so I don't I forget to have them with me when I'm away from home.
There is excellent medical information about stress incontinence at this National Institutes of Health website and at this Mayo Clinic site. And, surprisingly, some useful advice at this corporate site for one brand of pantiliner.
Getting old isn't easy and the little things seem to pile up: sleep problems, trying to read small print, fighting off weight gain - and now a leaky pipe. We shouldn't be any more embarrassed to talk about it than any of the others.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henrich von Bunau: The Right Book at the Right Time.