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Many of us will have to deal with incontinence in old age at some stage but it’s not a great conversation to have. The truth is that for a host of physical and neurological reasons, a very high percentage of older people will suffer from some incontinence.

Clearly, it’s a really difficult subject to broach with your parents,  and yet there are ways to manage this to make it a lot less embarrassing for everyone.

Urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence is the unintentional passing of urine. It is a common problem and is thought to affect millions of people worldwide, both men and women, although it tends to be more common in women overall.

The symptoms of urinary incontinence depend on the type your parent has. There are several types, but the most common are:

  • stress incontinence – when urine leaks out at times when the bladder is under pressure, for example when you cough or laugh
  • urge incontinence – when urine leaks as you feel a sudden, intense urge to pass urine, or soon afterwards

It is also possible to have a mixture of both types.  The treatment available for urinary incontinence will depend on type and severity of symptoms.  Treatments which don’t involve medication or surgery, are tried first. These include:

  • lifestyle changes – diet or changes to what is drunk
  • pelvic floor muscle training (Kegel exercises)
  • bladder training

After this, medication or surgery may be considered.

There are products available such as incontinence pants or pads – maybe through the GP, or available on eg Amazon.  You could also get help from organisations such as

Bowel incontinence

Bowel incontinence is an inability to control bowel movements, resulting in involuntary soiling. It’s also sometimes known as faecal incontinence.

The experience of bowel incontinence can vary from person to person. Some people feel a sudden need to go to the toilet but are unable to reach a toilet in time. Other people experience no sensation before soiling themselves, or there might be slight soiling when passing wind. Some people experience incontinence on a daily basis, whereas for others it only happens from time to time.

It’s thought one in 10 people will be affected by it at some point in their life. It can affect people of any age, although it’s more common in elderly people especially women.

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause and symptoms.  Trying the least intrusive treatments first, such as dietary changes and exercise programmes, is often recommended.   Medication and surgery are usually only considered if other treatments haven’t worked.

You can find more information about Urinary and Bowel Incontinence on the following links.

NHS Urinary Advice

NHS Bowel Advice