Incontinence and different types of it


It is estimated that more than one in five senior adults in Canada experiences some type of bladder control problem, resulting in an involuntary release of urine. This condition is known as urinary incontinence. It is not a disease. It is a symptom of some other problems with the body.

Incontinence can have devastating effects on the lives of seniors. It can limit social contacts due to embarrassment, can negatively affect feelings of well-being, and can also cause stress, leading to other health problems. Fortunately, there are a number of treatment options that can help restore quality of life for people with bladder control problems.


There are four basic types of incontinence: stress, urge, overflow and functional. They may occur alone, or in combination, especially in seniors.

Stress incontinence is the involuntary leakage of small amounts of urine in response to increased pressure on the bladder (e.g., when you sneeze, laugh, cough or lift something heavy). It is present in about 35 per cent of incontinent seniors. It is more common in women, often because childbirth caused the pelvic muscles to relax. It also occurs, usually temporarily, in men who have had prostate surgery.

Urge incontinence is the leakage of large amounts of urine when someone is unable to reach the toilet after getting the urge to urinate. It accounts for 60-70 per cent of incontinence problems in seniors.

Overflow incontinence accounts for 10-15 per cent of urinary incontinence. It occurs when there is an obstruction in the bladder, which causes the bladder to overfill. Often, there is no sensation that the bladder is full. Then, when the bladder contracts, urine is released.

Functional incontinence accounts for 25 per cent of the incontinence seen in institutions. It often happens because a person has difficulty moving from one place to another. Poor vision, hearing or speech may interfere with reaching the toilet or telling caregivers of the need to use the toilet. This type of incontinence can also occur in the home.

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