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Dealing with Urinary Incontinence

What Can Be Done?

Incontinence can go away on its own, but if it doesn't, a doctor is the best one to determine the cause and course of action that's best. The treatment will vary according to what's wrong.

There are a number of steps your mom and dad can take on their own to cope with their incontinence:

  • Get a schedule going. Schedule bathroom trips before experiencing the urge to urinate becomes too strong. Slowly extend the time between bathroom trips to train the bladder to “hold it.”
  • Make sure the pathway to the bathroom is clear. Getting there shouldn't be an obstacle course.
  • If your parents have to negotiate steps to get to the bathroom, they should consider buying a portable commode or, if they can afford it, installing a second bathroom.
  • Don't drink liquids three hours before going to bed.
  • Eliminate drinks that irritate the bladder with caffeine, such as coffee, tea, and sodas. Alcoholic drinks also cause irritation.
  • Stay clear of foods that are not bladder-friendly, such as sugar, chocolate, spicy foods, and grapefruit.
  • Take medications, especially diuretics, on a schedule that won't force you to get up in the middle of the night to urinate or wake up to soaked sheets. This can also save you from a nasty fall while groping to find the way to the toilet.
  • When you go out to an event, find out where the restrooms are before you need one. Try to find seating closest to the restrooms.
  • Women should practice Kegel exercises, which means squeezing the muscles of the vagina and anus three times a day for 25 repetitions at five seconds each. To identify that muscle, try to stop the flow of urine in midstream. This exercise has proven to be very effective to help with mild cases of stress incontinence.
  • Inhaling cigarette smoking irritates the bladder. Don't smoke and stay clear of secondhand smoke.

Other Options

In the tougher cases of incontinence there are other options. Medications seem to help a great number of women. In general, these drugs help with urge incontinence that relax the bladder muscles to stop abnormal contractions. Some women, however, report that the side effects of these, such as anxiety medications, outweigh the benefit.

The FDA has reviewed and is expected to approve two new devices for stress incontinence in women. One device acts as a urethral plug about one fifth the size of a tampon and the other is a single-use foam pad a little bigger than a postage stamp. For some women this may be just the ticket, although they will have to watch for infections. The more serious intervention is surgery to remove a blockage, repair the urethra, or reposition the bladder. As a last resort catheters can be placed into the bladder through the urethra to drain the bladder. You'll need to be on the look out for infections with catheters, too.

If Mom decides that her best option is to wear adult briefs, she should be aware that she will be very vulnerable to skin infections and irritations. Learning how to keep her skin clean and dry is essential. Make sure there's an adequate supply in the house, so she won't hesitate to change them as frequently as she should.



More on: Aging Parents

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Caring for Aging Parents © 2001 by Linda Colvin Rhodes, Ed.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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