What causes incontinence in elderly? Symptoms & Prevention!

Urinary incontinence is a big problem among elderly people and can be quite a sensitive and embarrassing topic. If you want to know what causes incontinence in the elderly, what the symptoms are, how to prevent and treat it, you need to keep on reading. Below you’ll find out whether it’s connected to other diseases and the risk factors that you should eliminate

What is incontinence?

Urinary incontinence[1] is a condition described as involuntary leakage of urine due to the loss of bladder control. It can appear at any age, however, it’s much more frequent among elderly people. Also, women tend to get affected more commonly than men[2] after the age of 70.

This is a problem that can be treated and controlled after proper diagnosis. But why and how does incontinence happen? It can be such an embarrassing condition that can affect both the physical and mental health of patients. Before we get into detail about the causes and symptoms, let’s find out why a person can face urine leakage and loss of bladder control.

The urine in your body is collected in the bladder. This is an organ that features a sphincter with muscles that keeps the urine inside the bladder. Once you voluntarily decide to use the restroom, those muscles relax, and the urine moves through the urethra and to the toilet. However, when a person is facing incontinence these muscles are weakened and they cannot control when the urine is released from the bladder.

This is intensified when the person with urinary incontinence sneezes or coughs. That’s when the muscles relax without any warning, and urine is released from the bladder. This unpleasant condition can and should be treated right away before it turns into a chronic disease or develops into a more severe problem. Make sure that you contact your physician if you ever notice signs of incontinence.


If you’ve been wondering what causes incontinence [3] in the elderly, the answer is a little more complex. There are numerous factors that can lead to this condition, including lifestyle choices, untreated and other underlying conditions, chronic diseases, and more. Some of these factors cause incontinence that can be treated and controlled with reversible damage, while some diseases cause irreversible damage and chronic incontinence.

Chronic Diseases

The following diseases can lead to incontinence:

  • Alzheimer’s[4]
  • Parkinson’s
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Obesity

These diseases have different mechanisms in affecting the bladder muscles. For example, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and diabetes cause damage to the nerves that control these muscles.

Urinary Tract Infections

One of the most common factors that lead to incontinence is a urinary tract infection that is not treated in time or is not treated correctly.


Age is a significant factor for both men and women. Aging is completely normal, so are the physical changes that happen in the body as the years go by. In general, as we get older, the bladder and the muscles can become weaker, and that’s when incontinence can happen.

Women & Incontinence

There are certain conditions that can cause changes in the bladder muscles for women, and those include:


When a woman goes through vaginal childbirth, that can cause weaker bladder muscles, damage to the nerves, and a prolapsed pelvic floor.


It’s another condition specific to women, and incontinence can happen due to the lower estrogen levels. This hormone is responsible for the health of the bladder and the urethra.


During pregnancy hormone levels tend to change. Together, with the weight of the baby, they can lead to weaker muscles and incontinence.

Men & Incontinence

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is one major factor for incontinence. Incontinence can also appear as a symptom of prostate cancer among men or a symptom of the treatment.


Inflammation of the prostate gland can also lead to this condition.

Enlarged Prostate

An enlarged prostate gland can cause blockage and also cause the gland to become more extensive as the person gets older.


Some of the most common symptoms that can help you recognize urinary incontinence are:

  • Instant urge to urinate that appears in seconds without any warning
  • Not being able to control the urge to urinate
  • Urine leakage during your normal everyday activities
  • Urine leakage during coughing and sneezing
  • Wetting the bed
  • Not being able to get to the toilet when you feel the urge, instead, you notice urine leakage right away.

All of these symptoms can appear for both men and women. If there are any other underlying conditions, they can bring an array of other symptoms as well, depending on the initial cause.

Risk Factors

Lifestyle Choices

Choices such as abuse of alcohol and smoking can eventually lead to incontinence of elderly people.


As we mentioned before, women are more prone to incontinence compared to men. The reason behind this is pregnancy, delivering babies vaginally, and menopause. These are natural occurrences, but they do weaken the muscles of the bladder.


Other diseases that can lead to incontinence include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, obesity, neurological disorders, anxiety, stroke, and more.


Age is a risk factor and a strong one when it comes to this condition. Older adults are more commonly affected, especially women.


The treatment of incontinence depends on the cause. The first step towards treatment is proper diagnosis. Once your doctor knows what causes it, they can prescribe the treatment. Some of the recommended treatment options include:

Pelvic Muscle Exercises

These exercises are meant to strengthen the bladder muscles and help you fight involuntary urine leakage. It’s a treatment option that doctors almost always recommend because it is pretty simple but effective. These are also known as Kegel exercises [5].

Nerve Stimulation

By stimulating the nerves, the muscles can get stronger and provide increased control over the bladder.


Surgery is, in some cases, a recommended course of treatment, especially in cases of prostate cancer, enlargement of the prostate gland, obstructions, and more.


When consulting with a specialist, they might prescribe you particular medications to treat incontinence, as well as other underlying conditions.

Scheduled Urination

This is another useful therapy option when patients train their minds and bodies. They set up a urinating schedule that will help them fight the urge to urinate often. First, they use the toilet every hour or two; then, extend the waiting period between urination.


There is no shame in admitting that you need help or that you’re wetting yourself. There are so many innovative products that can make your life easier and help you achieve good personal hygiene. If an elderly person needs to be outside of their house for a longer time, they can always turn to diapers for the elderly. They are so easy to use and will help you feel more comfortable.

Another thing to consider investing in is bedwetting sheet pads. They are meant for adults, you can wash them in the machine and use them every single night.


Healthy Lifestyle

One of the most important things that you need to keep in mind is to form a healthy lifestyle. This is not only crucial to prevent incontinence but also an array of other conditions. Smoking is never a bright idea, so that’s something you should stay away from. Being physically active is another thing you should do, regardless of age.

Physical Activity

Staying active is such an essential thing to do for a healthy body. This doesn’t mean that elderly people need to run marathons, but they need to have some sort of physical activity. It can be walking, riding a bike, dancing classes, whatever they feel comfortable doing. Don’t forget to consult with your physician about what’s the safest activity for you to try.

Regular Bathroom Visits

Going to the bathroom when you need to go is the best way to prevent incontinence. You shouldn’t delay or wait because it can weaken the bladder muscles.


You should stay away from drinks that contain caffeine, such as coffee and tea. They are diuretics and will make you want to go to the bathroom more. Also, stay away from sodas. However, you should continue drinking water.

Quality Food

Foods that are high in fiber can be helpful in the prevention of incontinence. These foods will keep your bowels moving and prevent constipation. Think of foods such as fruits, vegetables, wholegrain foods, and more.


Elderly urinary incontinence is unfortunately common, but thankfully, it is something that you can recognize, treat and keep under control. Once you notice the first symptoms of incontinence, it’s essential to contact a professional that will properly diagnose the problem, guide you through the lifestyle changes you need to make, and prescribe you therapy.


  1. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/urinary-incontinence/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1476070/#:~:text=Severe%20incontinence%20has%20a%20low,80%25%20of%20all%20male%20patients
  3. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/urinary-incontinence/causes/
  4. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-disease-common-medical-problems
  5. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/urinary-incontinence/causes/
  6. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/kegel-exercises/art-20045283
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