According to a June 2014 report [pdf] from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half the U.S. population age 65 and older (50.9%) report urinary and/or bowel leakage.
That's just the group of us who live independently; there are different numbers, higher and lower, for those in care homes of various kinds.
Because it's not a subject anyone likes to talk about much, we giggle and make jokes.
Although it is hard to openly discuss incontinence, it is important health issue that can have serious effects on people's lives. When WebMD reported on the CDC study, it noted,
"Bladder and bowel incontinence is a highly prevalent disease that has emotional, health, social and economic impacts in the daily life of our elderly population in the U.S.," said Dr. Farzeen Firoozi, a urologist at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, N.Y.”
Ever since, when the subject comes up, I've laughed again and passed it on (so to speak) to others (with attribution, Cop Car).
The reason for that post was, as I explained then,
”...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.”
So I did some research and reported to you. As I have further explained, more recently, losing weight solved the problem. No more leaks.
All this came to mind a few days ago when I received the weekly mailing from Harvard Medical School selling their topical health booklets – this one titled Better Bladder and Bowel Control. The email itself, headlined Five Ways to Dodge Incontinence, provides some good advice:
“Watch your weight. Excess weight and incontinence can go hand in hand, particularly for women. One theory is that extra abdominal fat can weaken the pelvic floor muscles and lead to stress incontinence (leaking when coughing, laughing, sneezing, etc.). In some cases, simply losing weight can improve incontinence.
“Don’t smoke. Smoking threatens your health in many ways. It also doubles the likelihood that a woman will develop stress incontinence. Nicotine has also been linked to urge incontinence.
“Stay active. In the Nurses’ Health Study, middle-aged women who were the most physically active were the least likely to develop incontinence.
“Minimize bladder irritants. Caffeine and alcohol have been linked to urge incontinence (the feeling you need to urinate even when the bladder isn’t full). Carbonated drinks, the artificial sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet), spicy foods, and citrus fruits and juices cause urge incontinence in some people.
“Don’t strain with bowel movements. This can weaken the pelvic floor muscles. If your stools are frequently hard or take considerable effort to pass, talk with your doctor. In a study involving people ages 65 and older, treating constipation improved a variety of urinary symptoms, including frequency, urgency, and burning. Increasing the fiber in your diet and drinking enough fluid can help prevent constipation.”
As useful as those items are to know, you can't get the rest of Harvard's information on causes and treatment without shelling out a lot more money than I care to spend.
Therefore, as TGB public service, here are some links to reputable online sources of information on incontinence:
WebMD Incontinence & Overactive Bladder Health Center
Many links to full articles, explanations and discussions of all aspects of incontinence
Medscape Urinary Incontinence in the Elderly
A thorough, single-spaced, eight-page explanation meant for physicians but easily understandable by laymen
Mayo Clinic Urinary Incontinence
A good section with pages on definition, symptoms, causes, risk factors, complications, treatments, drugs, even home remedies
Incontinence is highly treatable with drugs, other interventions and in some cases, surgery. For me – like so many of the minor afflictions of age - just irritating, every single day.
I am grateful my bout of incontinence was so easily solved with weight loss. I always wondered, when I took up Cop Car's solution, what jokes the check out clerks at Rite-Aid were telling each other after this white-haired old woman paid for her Maxipads.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Vicki E. Jones: I Accept the Nomination