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What are the Best Treatments for Incontinence in the Elderly?

By Rica Lewis
Updated May 17, 2024
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No one-size-fits-all treatment exists for incontinence in the elderly, because there are numerous types of incontinence, each with specific causes. Before the best specific treatment can be determined, an elderly person should receive a medical evaluation and discuss his options with a doctor. Options for treating incontinence in the elderly generally include exercising to strengthen pelvic muscles that control the bladder, scheduling restroom breaks to try to avoid the problem, taking medications to treat underlying conditions and, as a last resort, undergoing surgery. Doctors generally suggest the least invasive approaches first.

When incontinence in the elderly occurs because of weakened pelvic muscles, Kegel exercises may be the best treatment approach. These targeted movements help strengthen the muscles that control the bladder and, when practiced daily, may reduce or eliminate incontinent episodes within a few months. Kegel exercises can be performed anywhere at anytime.

Start by squeezing the muscles used to stop the flow of urine. A person can do this by imagining he or she is urinating and stopping urine flow or by using the restroom and actually stopping the flow; by stopping the flow of urine midstream, the correct muscles can be identified and isolated. Once the proper muscles are found, the movement should be held for a count of at least three, working up to 10. Repeat the exercise as directed by a doctor, or as many as 10 times daily, but don't risk increasing the damage by overdoing it. If Kegel exercises do not produce the desired results, incontinence biofeedback, a treatment using specialized computer devices that offer feedback on contractions, can be administered with the help of a medical professional.

Functional incontinence occurs when an elderly person is unable to get to the bathroom in time to relieve himself or herself, which results in an accident. People who have arthritis or other medical conditions that limit movement may experience this type of incontinence. Generally, the best treatment approach is to maintain a toileting schedule that requires regularly scheduled trips to the restroom to empty the bladder before accidents occur. In most cases, people should try to go every two to four hours. Reduce embarrassment and cleanup when accidents do occur by wearing incontinence briefs or panties.

If bladder leakage is a problem, as is common for elderly men who have enlarged prostates, dietary interventions are a reasonable and noninvasive treatment approach. Eliminating items that have a diuretic effect on the bladder, such as alcohol and caffeine, also may be necessary. If this method is not effective, medications may be added. Incontinence in the elderly is common, but it does not have to be a major problem. If one treatment is not effective, there are many options to explore.

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