Urinary Incontinence in Older Adults

Urinary incontinence means a person leaks urine by accident. While it may happen to anyone, urinary incontinence is more common in older people, especially women. Incontinence can often be cured or controlled. Talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do.

What happens in the body to cause bladder control problems? The body stores urine in the bladder. During urination, muscles in the bladder tighten to move urine into a tube called the urethra. At the same time, the muscles around the urethra relax and let the urine pass out of the body. When the muscles in and around the bladder don’t work the way they should, urine can leak. Incontinence typically occurs if the muscles relax without warning.

Causes of Urinary Incontinence

Incontinence can happen for many reasons. For example, urinary tract infections, vaginal infection or irritation, constipation. Some medicines can cause bladder control problems that last a short time. When incontinence lasts longer, it may be due to:

  • Weak bladder muscles
  • Overactive bladder muscles
  • Weak pelvic floor muscles
  • Damage to nerves that control the bladder from diseases such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease
  • Blockage from an enlarged prostate in men
  • Diseases such as arthritis that may make it difficult to get to the bathroom in time
  • Pelvic organ prolapse, which is when pelvic organs (such as the bladder, rectum, or uterus) shift out of their normal place into the vagina. When pelvic organs are out of place, the bladder and urethra are not able to work normally, which may cause urine to leak.

Most incontinence in men is related to the prostate gland. Male incontinence may be caused by:

  • Prostatitis—a painful inflammation of the prostate gland
  • Injury, or damage to nerves or muscles from surgery
  • An enlarged prostate gland, which can lead to Benign Prostate Hyperplasia (BPH), a condition where the prostate grows as men age.