Older age does not cause incontinence, however, there are a number of changes that may happen when we age that can increase the risk of incontinence and other bladder and bowel health problems. In Australia, incontinence is the third highest reason for frail, elderly people to move from their homes into a nursing home. In other countries such as America and the United Kingdom, it is the second highest reason.

Incontinence can result in social isolation, particularly for older people. A study in the 1990s found that 50% of older people who did not leave their house said this was due to incontinence. People with poor social networks tend to have poorer general health, and this in turn can increase the risk of problems such as incontinence. 

Other bladder and bowel issues can also have serious consequences for older people. These include urgency, nocturia (waking at night to pass urine) and constipation. 

Urgency may cause problems for older people, especially those with poor mobility and poor balance as it can increase the risk of falling. Researchers have shown that when people rush to the toilet they take shorter steps when walking1. This can in turn affect balance, placing an older person at greater risk of falling. 

Nocturia can also increase the risk of falls, especially when people are waking to go to the toilet 3 or more times a night2.

Bowel problems such as constipation are common in older people. If a person has been straining on the toilet and then stands up quickly there can be a sudden drop in blood pressure which can lead to fainting and possible injury. 

There is a range of other factors that can affect mobility and dexterity and these in turn can have an impact on the risk of an older person having continence issues. Addressing these issues along with bladder and bowel health problems can minimise the risks of incontinence. There are dedicated continence health care professionals who can assess your continence problems and provide you with options to improve your bladder and bowel health. 

In summary, there are steps that can be taken to prevent or reduce the risk of developing bladder and bowel health problems, and treatments are available to overcome or minimise the effects of incontinence and other problems. Older people and their carers should be encouraged to seek help and not just accept, or put up with, bladder and bowel problems. 

If you would like more information, please contact us 

1. Booth, J., Paul, L., Rafferty, D., and MacInnes, C. 2013 The relationship between urinary ladder control and gait in women Neurology and Urodynamics 32(1) 43-47

2. Vaughan, C.P., et al 2010 The association of nocturia with incident falls in an elderly community-dwelling cohort International Journal of Clinical Practice Apr 64(5) 577-583

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Testimonial image:

Kylie – parent of a child that wets the bed 

Kylie rang our service as she was concerned about her five-year-old daughter, Mia, who was wetting the bed. Kylie had tried limiting Mia’s drinks in the late afternoon and evening and was also getting up at night to wake Mia and take her to the toilet.

Our advisor explained that it may take children until they around 5 ½ years old before they gain bladder control during sleep. Kylie was advised to encourage Mia to drink well throughout the day and was cautioned against cutting out drinks in the afternoon and early evening. Kylie was discouraged from waking Mia at night to take her to the toilet. Kylie was provided with information on obtaining a referral from Mia’s doctor to a bedwetting clinic if Mia continues to wet the bed past 5 ½ years of age.

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Anastasiya’s story

“As a mum of two young children, I have experienced the joys of two pregnancies and postpartum recoveries. I was shocked after the birth of my first child to discover that my pelvic floor muscles had become weak. I sought advice from Bladder and Bowel Health Australia and learnt the importance of exercising these muscles. This knowledge helped, and because I was better informed second time around, I have now fully restored the dignity of my body and truly enjoyed the changes - and my motherhood. Thank you, Bladder and Bowel Health Australia, for informing young families about bladder and bowel health issues.” 

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Doreen – carer of her husband who has dementia 

Doreen was becoming exhausted caring for her husband Tom, who has dementia. Tom was not always making it to the toilet on time and needed his trousers to be changed several times a day. Every day Doreen was also washing bedlinen and the four towels that Tom was laying on at night as he was soaking through his pull-up pants. 

Tom was receiving a high-level Home Care Package, and Doreen was able to arrange with their provider for some of Tom’s package to be allocated to funding continence assessment and management.  

Our advisor went to Tom’s home and conducted a thorough continence assessment. A continence management plan was developed with input from Doreen, and appropriate incontinence aids and linen protection were organised. Doreen is relieved that Tom’s incontinence has reduced, and her washing load has lessened. Doreen is now confident that she can continue caring for Tom in their home. 

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Gary – experiencing leakage after his recent prostate surgery 

Gary met with one of our Bladder and Bowel Health advisors, as he was concerned about his urine leakage that was persisting after his radical prostatectomy five weeks earlier.   

Gary discussed his concerns with the advisor and was reassured that he was making good progress towards regaining bladder control. This reinforced the information he had received from his urologist. Gary was encouraged to switch to a smaller incontinence pad rather than continuing to wear the pull- up incontinence pants he had worn since his surgery. The advisor arranged some smaller pads for him to trial and provided details on where he could buy them close to his home. 

Gary was encouraged to drink plenty of fluid (particularly water) and to increase his fruit and vegetable intake to avoid constipation. Gary was uncertain if his pelvic floor muscles were working properly and he was referred to a pelvic floor physiotherapist. Gary left the clinic in a brighter frame of mind, confident that he was improving and had clear strategies to further support his recovery.