Seniors are prone to depression for so many reasons, the death of a family member or a life partner, local senior care provider Margo Coster said. “Losing the ability to make it to the bathroom should not be one of them.”
Coster, program coordinator at the Bob Gilmore Senior Center in Killeen, said that incontinence, or leakage of the bowels or bladder, is common among her seniors.
The accidents, which can be provoked by a simple sneeze, laugh or cough, often lead to embarrassment, restricted social interaction and ultimately psychological issues that could be solved with just a little of exercise and awareness.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, incontinence is one of the major reasons seniors are admitted to nursing homes.
CDC estimates that 15 to 30 percent of Americans age 60 or older suffer from incontinence.
Killeen physical therapist Jeanice Mitchell said the numbers are actually much higher, but most people who suffer from incontinence do not know or are not willing to admit they have the problem.
“A lot of people think it’s not incontinence because they are not wearing Depends,” Mitchell said. “If you’re not fixing the problem — which is weakness of the muscles — others things are masking it.”
Muscles below the abdomen weaken gradually and people often accommodate the slow leakage by using panty liners, menstrual pads and other safeguards.
Incontinence is particularly common in women because of the arrangement of their organs over the set of muscles Mitchell calls the “pelvic floor.”
The name is fitting, she said, because “if you remove the floor, you have no support.”
The set of muscles stretches across the opening of the bottom of the pelvic bone like a hammock, keeping the bladder, intestines and uterus (in females) from falling out.
When any of these organs falls out, it is called a prolapse, a painful and scary affliction that usually requires surgery.
Time to go
Unfortunately, one inevitable consequence of an episode of incontinence is people going to the bathroom too often and at the slightest urge, which causes the bladder to shrink overtime.
Mitchell recommends her patients wait between two and five hours between urinations.
Urinating more than once per night is usually a sign of a shrinking bladder.
“We get into the habit of going when we get with that first sensation in our bladder — to be able to control it,” Mitchell said. “Pretty soon the bladder is controlling you.”
Stretching past the initial urge in a person’s bladder will actually help a person control their urination and allow them to enjoy their life more, she said.
The stop test
One way to test the strength of a person’s bladder and pelvic floor is to try stop the flow midstream.
“If you can completely stop and hold it, that is a pretty good sign,” Mitchell said.
To test the size of the bladder, Mitchell advises her patients to count during their urination. If they do not make it to 10 seconds they have not waited long enough.
By training the bladder to hold it longer, the body is able to better control incontinence.
Simple exercises that contract the pelvic floor muscles help keep them in shape.
People contract their pelvic floor in all kinds of daily activities, including walking, reaching, anytime the organs are lifted.
“Every time the body lifts, the pelvic floor muscles should lift,” Mitchell said.
For that reason most normal exercises work the pelvic floor muscles.
Eating right and intercourse also contribute to the strength of the pelvic floor.
But no matter what, “If you gotta go, go,” Mitchell added, but good habits will prevent embarrassing and sometimes even dangerous situations for your pelvic floor.
If any of the information in this article contradicts your doctor has said, listen to your doctor.