Understanding Urinary Incontinence in Adults

How to support someone living with urinary incontinence

Originally published on: February 28th, 2018. Last modified on April 21st, 2022

Urinary incontinence can be painful, embarrassing, and even debilitating. Whether it is yourself, a member of your family, or even a close friend, this is an issue many will have to deal with.

Often people assume that urinary incontinence will only affect the elderly, but in fact, individuals of any age can suffer. Due to the diversity of people affected, potential causes and their treatments are highly varied.

Care and nursing at home specialists, Helping Hands says, “No two people are going to have exactly the same need”, which is why it’s extremely important the care you or your loved one receive is tailored to the individual.

If the symptoms listed below seem familiar, it may be time to see your doctor.

How to deal with Urinary Incontinence

Causes of Incontinence

Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) can affect people of all ages and are the most common healthcare-associated infection reported to the National Healthcare Safety Network. According to the World Health Organisation, around 50% of women will report having a UTI in their lifetime.

These infections can occur in any part of the urinary tract from the kidneys to the urethra and are the result of bacterial infections. If left untreated infections of the lower tract can develop into a kidney infection. Irritation in the bladder from infection can result in an intense need to urinate or incontinence.

Avoid UTIs by drinking plenty of water – six to eight glasses a day – to help flush out bacteria and keep your bladder healthy. If sexually active, urinate before and after sex to reduce the chance of infection. Beware – whilst there is an active ingredient in cranberry juice that can prevent bacteria sticking to the bladder wall, a Cochrane review has shown that there isn’t enough of it present in this popular home remedy to have any effect.

Interstitial Cystitis, or Painful Bladder Syndrome (PBS), is a condition affecting people from as early as their 30s. Along with strong and sudden urges to urinate, it can cause pain when passing urine and in the pelvic region.

PBS is poorly understood, and may come and go in episodes of varying lengths. Try cutting out caffeine and alcohol, and taking measures to reduce stress. Paracetamol and ibuprofen can help to deal with the pain, and your doctor may prescribe other drugs to help counter the symptoms.

Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) is common in men over 40, affecting roughly 20% of the population according to a study in Reviews in Urology (Roehrborn, 2005). The presence of blood in urine is a key indicator, as is a burning sensation when urinating and a frequent need to urinate. When suffering from BPH, men may struggle to fully empty their bladder, meaning the bladder takes less time to fill and they may feel the urge to urinate much more frequently.

Prostate cancer also affects urination in men, with 11.6% of men suffering at some point during their life according to the National Cancer Institute. Prostate cancer causes similar symptoms to BPH, and unfortunately treatment involves surgery, chemotherapy, or radiotherapy.

Blood in urine and frequent urination can be a result of bladder cancer. Similarly, it can require surgery or chemo- and radiotherapy. To reduce the risk of cancers, avoid carcinogens. Smoking can increase the risk of bladder cancer two to three times.

Take these 4 Steps to keep Healthy

For anyone experiencing symptoms related to urinary incontinence, there are some simple steps you can take to try and keep your bladder healthy.

  1. Switch from caffeinated and carbonated beverages to water to keep your urinary tract free from bacteria.
  2. Some foods may worsen bladder conditions such as PBS, particularly acidic food. Try and avoid foods which can cause irritation.
  3. Water retention is a condition where fluid accumulates in areas of the body, often the legs. It often affects pregnant women and the elderly and puts pressure on the bladder. To avoid an overactive bladder at night, walk around or do other exercise during the day.
  4. Pelvic Floor (or Kegel) exercises can be used to strengthen muscles and increase bladder control. This can help prevent urine leakage and incontinence. Some companies such as Helping Hands offer bladder retraining and incontinence aid services.

Mental Decline and Incontinence

Dementia is a brain disorder which affects communication and performance of daily activities. Alzheimer’s Disease is the most frequent cause of dementia, causing 50-70% of cases according to the Centre for Disease Control. Other common causes include Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

These conditions cause changes in the structure of the brain as neurons die. As they progress, difficulties with urination occur. Incontinence can be caused by frequent UTIs from an individual’s inability to clean themselves properly, constipation from a poor diet or dehydration, or as a side-effect of medication.

Alternatively, urinary incontinence may occur because of neurological decline caused by dementia. Mobility can decrease as the disease progresses, making it difficult for a sufferer to reach the toilet on time. Reduced sensation can also prevent the sufferer from knowing when they need to urinate. Mental decline can lead to the individual not knowing where the toilet is, or how to use it when they get there.

How can you help someone with Dementia?

There are some steps you can take to manage the effects of dementia on urinary incontinence:

    1. Diet and lifestyle can be used to reduce the effects
    2. Establish routines to avoid accidents
    3. Take the sufferer to the loo after every meal
    4. Ensure they eat at regular times
    5. Avoiding drinking two hours before bed
    6. Easy to remove clothing can help those with limited mobility or their helpers

Further Information

If either you or a loved one are beginning to struggle with reaching the toilet in time, it may be time to look for external aids. Families often take on the care of a relative showing signs of decline, however, round-the-clock care can be exhausting and take up a lot of time.

There are organisations that can offer live-in or occasional care, and can often provide specialist help in dealing with conditions such as dementia. Look for companies regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and approved by your local social services.