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Senior Citizen's Guide

Eliminating the Silence...
Older Adults are Encouraged to Talk About Incontinence

Incontinence can be embarrassing and difficult to discuss. The stigma associated with bladder control issues has caused it to remain a "taboo subject". Knowing the facts about incontinence can eliminate the stigma and improve the quality of life.

Incontinence is a medical condition. It is "not a normal part of aging" nor is it a disease. Bladder control issues are estimated to affect one in three elderly persons, or 10 million seniors. If left untreated incontinence can lead to isolation, loss of freedom, and unnecessary frustration.

If you or a loved one experience incontinence, it is essential for you to communicate with a medical professional. Today's technological advancements offer a variety of successful treatments and, for some, even a cure. No longer does one have to worry about embarrassing odors or leakage and individuals can continue with active lifestyle. A myriad of solutions is available to enable independence, enhance confidence, and improve the quality of life.

An assessment by a medical professional is the first step in determining the type of incontinence you may be experiencing and the best method of treatment to meet your individual needs. Your personal physician may recommend that you see an urologist who specializes in caring for individuals with urinary conditions for this assessment.

There are five common types of incontinence, which can be experienced either separately or in a variety of combinations. Stress incontinence is the leakage of a small amount of urine due to sudden pressure on the bladder experienced when laughing, coughing, exercising, or lifting a heavy object. Urge incontinence is a sudden "urge" to urinate that is so strong that the bathroom cannot be reached in time. Overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder fills beyond capacity and urine spills. Individuals may also experience the feeling of never being able to empty the bladder. Reflex incontinence is an involuntary urination without any sensation of a full bladder. It is possible to be completely unaware of the need to urinate when this happens. Functional incontinence can result from a surgery, restricted mobility, environmental barriers, medications, or mental disorders.

Once the type, or combinations of types, of incontinence is determined you are on the road to a successful treatment, cure or effective management of the condition. Diet modification, behavioral therapy, pelvic floor exercises, medications, supportive devices, surgery, and disposable absorbent products may be determined by your health care professional to best meet your individualized needs.

Behavioral therapies and pelvic muscle re-education have been found to be low-risk techniques to decrease the frequency of urination in individuals. Examples of techniques to strengthen weakened pelvic floors are bladder retraining, biofeedback, vaginal weights, magnetic therapy, and electrical stimulation. Women with stress or urge incontinence, or the combination of both, have been found to benefit from these techniques.

Drug therapy is another way to treat incontinence. Medications are prescribed to correct problems with the bladder or its outlet muscles. These medications may also be combined with behavioral or exercise therapies. Television and print advertisements have made certain brand names and the phrase "gotta go, gotta go" recognizable to many women. Drug therapies are available to treat urge, stress, and overflow incontinence.

Supportive devices such as pessaries or bladder neck support prostheses can be placed inside the vagina to help support the bladder, uterus, vagina or rectum in the event their normal placement has changed. Childbirth, heavy lifting, straining during bowel movements, loss of estrogen at menopause and gravity changes during aging may contribute to vaginal muscle loss. Short term devices, such as plugs, block the urethra and provide excellent bladder control on a temporary basis.

Surgery to restore the urethra and bladder to their normal position in the pelvis may be the treatment of choice with the presence of certain conditions or when other therapies have failed.

Disposable absorbent products are also an effective and convenient way to manage incontinence. Today's superabsorbent technology eliminates embarrassing odors, leakage, and skin breakdown. Absorbent products come in a variety of sizes, styles, and absorbency levels to meet each woman's individualized protection needs. Pads worn in underwear, pull-on style protective underwear, undergarments, and full briefs are all designed to address light, moderate or heavy levels of incontinence. Identifying the type of incontinence coupled with the amount of urine flow and mobility level will assist in determining which product is right for you.

It is very important to note that not all disposable products are created equal. Low performance products comprised of cotton fluff or products manufactured for menstruation are not effective in the management of incontinence. Tranquility's bladder control products comprised of superabsorbent polymers offer the highest level of performance and will quickly absorb and neutralize urine. High performance products retain large volumes of urine, prevent leakage, control bacterial growth, eliminate odor and improve the quality of life. In addition, they also offer a cost-saving advantage.

If you are interested in learning more about incontinence and the impact on older adults, there are many professional organizations, web sites, support groups and educational materials to assist you in your quest. The National Association for Continence (NAFC) is an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life of people with incontinence. They offer a resource guide filled with products and services for incontinence. NAFC can be found on the web at www.nafc.org or reached by phone at 1-800-BLADDER.

The Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging at www.aoa.gov or the Eldercare Locator at www.eldercare.gov provides detailed information on issues and services related to senior's needs. You may also wish to contact your local Area Agency on Aging or senior center for materials regarding incontinence and older adults.

In addition, your health care professional, local library and internet can also provide much more information on this very important issue.

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