Urinary tract infections may happen at any age. They are most common in women. About 25% of urinary tract infections occur in younger women, 40 % of those are in women over age 50, and an alarming 75% happen in women who are seniors. Most leaky bladder problems are caused by a weak urinary sphincter, and is called stress incontinence. The leakage is set off by coughing, laughing, sneezing, lovemaking, or one of many activities in which we engage, which puts pressure on the bladder.
Another type of incontinence is urge incontinence. In this type, you have a sudden urge to go and cannot make it to the bathroom in time.
Some women have both types and this is called mixed incontinence.
My mom had mixed incontinence. She was 97 when she died. For many years, when she laughed, she had leakage. This continued and in later years she had urge incontinence as well. About a year before her death, she had a severe urinary tract infections and had to go to the hospital for IV antibiotics. The infection must have gotten a good hold on her because it took some time to clear up. While in the hospital, she became confused and had a condition called “sundowner syndrome” in which she slept mostly during the day and revved up at night, acting out and becoming confused and out of it. She was forced to be on bedrest for eleven days.
This in an adult her age spells disaster. And when the time was up, she could not stand or get up. Because she was frail, it was risky to move her to a chair even.
She was admitted to a nursing home for rehabilitation. My mom was a fighter. She struggled long and hard and within six weeks of admission, she was walking and back to most activities.
But it had been a long battle. We felt then, that it was not feasible for her to remain by herself anymore. She had lived alone since her husband’s death in 1978. That was 34 years ago. So this hardy woman had a sitter during the day and my sister stayed with her at night.
I tell this story to explain just how serious a urinary tract infection in an elderly person can be and what a toll it can take.
Some recommendations for those with incontinence include:
- Maintain an exercise program. Get some exercise each day even if only a walk.
- Drink plenty of fluids each day. My mom didn’t want to drink because she would then have to get up to the bathroom more often, which took a lot of effort , especially during the time she was on a walker.
- Give yourself a regular routine in the bathroom each morning.
- Eat a healthy diet with a lot of fruits and vegetables.
- Try to get on a program to regain control of bladder sphincter. This can be done by setting up a schedule of going to the bathroom to void frequently, then holding off for longer and longer periods using kegal exercsies. These exercises consist of squeezing the muscles of the urinary tract and holding off on voiding. Sometimes muscle strengthening is needed before this may be accomplished.
For many patients behavior modification or muscle rehabilitation is very successful. There are other treatments available as well. Talk to your doctor about treatment options.
So many women wait for so long before going for treatment. This is no longer necessary. There are treatments available. There is help.