Health Care Reform Gets Personal
THE TGB ELDER GEEK: Browsing with Tabs

Age and Leaky Old Pipes

category_bug_journal2.gif 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.


I'm happy that someone has finally brought up the leaky pipe problem. I have been wearing 'Light Day' pant liners since breaking my hip. I find it amusing when the clerks look at my purchase and only think of the use for which they were designed. You can see the question running around in their heads. "She can't be-----nah."

As long as my incontinence is limited to the stress type I won't take medication for it, but I think I will reconsider that if I need to start wearing diapers.

Yes, Ronni, congrats as always, in dealing with a topic that affects many of us, me included.

Amazingly, this does not occur at night. I just wake up to go to the bathroom.

Ah yes, growing older is filled with the wonderment of watching the body disintegrate in front of your eyes. Some things you can change; some you just adapt. But living with these inconveniences is still living and that's ok in my book.

I think of an older friend of mine, who was active and involved, and slowly stopped most of her social activities. When she had a severe bladder infection that caused her to be hospitalized, and we had to get some personal items from her home, we found boxes of pantiliners and pads stored in every room, piles of them. I felt so bad that she had this problem and couldn't share her concerns with her friends or, come to find out, her doctor. And she was more willing to purchase those feminine products than the adult incontinence products that actually could have provided more peace of mind and freedom to go out and about.

One of the more useful things I learned from my obstetrician for my first child was the Kegel.

Years ago I bought a small trampoline- the kind that can slide under a bed for storage.

Put the thing together. Wow, what a brainwave..I can exercise in my office.....

The first time I jumped on it, I couldn't hold my pee. That's right, every jump made me tinkle in my undies. What the heck was that all about?

I went to the bathroom, peed. Went back to the trampoline, jumped, peed again. Where was all this pee coming from? I never pee when I do anything else.

Man was I ticked off. Stubbornly, I tried again and again. Had to change my undies. What the hell!

Finally I gave my mom the trampoline. She tried it. No pee. She's 20 years older than I am, and no pee.

When I told her what happened to me, she laughed so hard, tears were rolling down her face. When mom laughs on her rocking chair, her feet go up. We both laughed until we cried. One of the biggest laughs we've ever had.

Mom kept it for a while, then gave the trampoline away.

Every now and then she mentions it...

"Hey, member that trampoline that you bought?"

"Yeah. What about it?"

"Remember what happened when you jumped on it?"




My M.I.L. had this problem and I don't know how we transistioned her to adult diapers...but we did and she managed that well. She was battling senile so we made no effort to treat this problem. Now I have something even more fun to look forward eyes and nose already leak like a faucet in the winter.

How true.....a daily occurrence, especially when watering the garden, or running any tap/faucet!

Thanks Ronni - you certainly do tackle the important issues.

I did the Kegel's and they cured it for me.

I think of this as women's problem as well as an aging problem. When I was in a group in my 30s (!), we referred to ourselves as "leaky." I find the degree to which I am leaky correlates with general fitness. But leaking happens, especially when I'm exercising.

I'm not dressed without a maxi pad - the vast majority of which are never needed!

Kegels didn't help, but cutting way back on caffeine did. If I can sit down, lie down, or cross my legs while standing before I sneeze, there's no problem: the physical configuration means that the stress of the sneeze does not cause leakage.

Bleck, ugh, grumph......yes, mam. I do my Kegles...and they work better if you don't do them all at once at night before bed. I still leak....sometimes volubly. I spent forever hunting for liners that didn't make me look as if I wore diapers yet did the job....just in case.

Did I say that this isn't romantic?

I started doing Kegels after the bith of my second child and at the recommendation of a urologist as I was having some problems along those lines. I have done them ever since and when I forget for awhile, the problem returns but quickly is solved with them. I realize I don't have something organically wrong which sometimes requires surgery but it's not something we have to have and Kegels even helped my 90 something mother-in-law when she was introduced to them at a much older age than I first had been.

Hi Ronnie, At a family get together (mostly women) the topic came up after a conversation about leaking house plumbing. We thought it seems like women's lives are spent with some body part leaking. Kegels do help, but after long courses of cortisone my muscles don't respond to that. I too prefer panty liners and regular pads to the incontinence products. I too noticed the peculiar looks of grocery clerks. What frustrates me is the response to the sound of water, or getting to my front the door but can't make it to the potty. There is a nurse practitioner in our town who teaches, along with Kegels, with biofeedback and other methods to teach us to not respond to those visual and audio hints. I have yet to try it but if it gets bad enough, maybe I will. And no, it's not romantic, I pee as hard as I can before sex and we use a beach towel in bed, eliminates anyone sleeping on the wet spot whatever the origin.

For as long as I can remember, I've had the running water/need to pee response that Pamela and Celia mention.

I have a long-held theory I can't prove regarding it that I developed as a child: when my mother was toilet training my brother, she'd run the water in the basin to give him the idea and I've assumed ever since that she did the same for me.

The problem is, I never got over it. Thanks, Mom.

Good grief, my Mom potty trained all of us that way and we all four still have to pee when we hear running water. I think you are on to something. How to get those old messages out of our heads?

There is two types of incontinence stress and urge. Many times women have both. I followed the instructions about kegels, voiding every two hours, limiting intake in the evening and medication. Every year it got worse. I was evaluated for a bladder lift and the tests show I would benefit. I have been so much better since the surgery. My Mother at 93 has more of a problem and the medications wont handle it and she was told she was too old for surgery.
The adult diapers don't work all that well. When my husband was dying it got to the point where he couldn't get up to void. I tried almost everything on the market. What worked best was to get the pull ups and put in a pad.

You are right Ronnie we need to get over our embarrassment and share information with one another.

The peeing in my pants started when I was around fifty. It is really worth asking a physician about it. A lot of women suffer from this after giving birth, or not. Anyway, I tried the exercise approach under the supervision of a specialist. It did nothing for me and I was suggested surgery. I was 57 at the time and figured that I'd have to do it sooner or later. Decided that I'd rather do it when I was younger than when I'd get older. Although I hate doctors, surgeons, hospitals and nurses, I'm glad I did it, and haven't had a leak in all those years, whether I sneeze, gigle or cough.

When I had surgery for this problem, back in 1982, I assumed it was caused by having given birth to several large babies. I remember grumbling to the surgeon "It's not fair! I was the only one on my ward who did my Kegels every day - and I still do them. So why do I leak?" To which he replied, "You can do Kegels till you are blue in the face but it won't make any difference. It all has to do with tissue type. Unfortunately for you, you have the sort of pelvic tissue that goes slack - you know, like a rubber hot water bottle when it perishes?" (Great image. Thanks a lot, Doc!!) He added, "It is not because of the babies. I have done this operation on nuns."
The surgery helped a lot. I could do the star jumps in my aerobics class after that, and run for a bus. I still can. But every now and then, when my bladder is less than 100% empty and someone makes me laugh a lot - oh dear!! And it didn't fix the sex part of it either, for some reason. (Celia, bless you for mentioning the beach towel - I have never dared divulge that before! I still treasure the memory of making love among the sand dunes, where a leak didn't matter one bit!!)

Reading this was delightful. Think I began having the need to pee-in-a-hurry when a young woman. Just got more so with aging. Keeping my weight down seems to help.

Well, you've covered the leaks part now we need to talk about the stoppages part of growing older. Bladders and bowels--go and no go...

Slate, the online magazine, published an interesting article a while ago. A 27-year-old man was asked to test adult diapers and report back (

Sadly, all the American brands were terrible. The only adult diaper that worked well and was comfortable was a European brand. The reason for this is even sadder: "The vast majority of American-made adult diapers are purchased by hospitals, Medicare, and Medicaid. These institutional purchasers are mostly interested in saving money, so diaper manufacturers tailor their products to their buyers' demands, producing diapers that are, essentially, cheap and cheaply made."

The article is really well written.

I think that you and your readers will appreciate the humor of my recent experience:

Last month, while I vacationed in Maine with two of my dearest women friends, as we sat one evening playing "Boggle" and drinking wine, I passed some gas, which started me laughing -- which cased me to start peeing in my pants, which made me laugh even more. By the time I got into the bathroom, my sweat pants were soaked, and all I could do was sit on the toilet and laugh until I cried from laughing so hard.

There was something very psychologically cathartic to just let it all go and laugh about it with friends who could commiserate.

I'm almost 70 and have never had much of a problem with leakage, but now I make a point to wear a pad if I'm going to be anywhere where I might get a giggle fit.

So far no problem for me. But our nine-year-old Old English Sheepdog, Abby, has a wee pee issue. I get pads for her doggie diaper at the drug store (the pads they sell for dogs at pet stores are ridiculously expensive) and I figure that, if/when I leak myself, I'll have long since gotten over any embarrassment buying those things!

I had to pop back to see how many are laughing till they wet themselves and couldn't help a chuckle at Florence's post.....bowels next. I look forward to some good tips!

Ronni - DON'T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT THEM....I am late getting to read this post...seem to be in a no read blog "funk" at the moment...but this was too much.
Bowels - Coalace (1 @ day) they give them in hospitals/ cup of hot water/prune juice/prunes...whatever works...
Thanks all for sharing your most intimate details...too much!

Ronni - GAS- always remember - if possible - step away from people when you need to pass one likes to be in "harms" way when the "Poo Poo" person lets one go!!! OMG this post was too much for me...

Moonpads are perfect and colourful and fun and I never leave home without them. They are washable so I am much easier on the environment and my stock has been going for 4 years ( I have 12). They are incredibly ccomfortable.
For travelling I use Teenas very discreet design for incontinence.
Thanks Ronni for talking about this.

I don't think it's entirely weight related. I am a normal weight and very fit I had to have surgery it was so bad.

What is it with that 'get to the door of the house...or *almost* to the door of the house' thing? Sometimes I can hold it then and sometimes I have a small...or a not so small...dribble or gush before I can make it to the bathroom!

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