Bladder symptoms affect women of all ages. However, bladder problems are most prevalent among older women. Up to 35% of the total population over the age of 60 years is estimated to be incontinent, with women twice as likely as men to experience incontinence. One in three women over the age of 60 years are estimated to have bladder control problems.
Bladder control problems have been found to be associated with higher incidence of many other health problems such as obesity and diabetes. Difficulty with bladder control results in higher rates of depression and limited activity levels.
Incontinence is expensive both to individuals in the form of bladder control products and to the health care system and nursing home industry. Injury related to incontinence is a leading cause of admission to assisted living and nursing care facilities. More than 50% of nursing facility admissions are related to incontinence.
Men tend to experience incontinence less often than women, and the structure of the male urinary tract accounts for this difference. But both women and men can become incontinent from neurologic injury, congenital defects, strokes, multiple sclerosis, and physical problems associated with aging.
While urinary incontinence affects older men more often than younger men, the onset of incontinence can happen at any age. Incontinence is treatable and often curable at all ages.
Incontinence in men usually occurs because of problems with muscles that help to hold or release urine. The body stores urine—water and wastes removed by the kidneys—in the urinary bladder, a balloon-like organ. The bladder connects to the urethra, the tube through which urine leaves the body.
During urination, muscles in the wall of the bladder contract, forcing urine out of the bladder and into the urethra. At the same time, sphincter muscles surrounding the urethra relax, letting urine pass out of the body. Incontinence will occur if the bladder muscles suddenly contract or muscles surrounding the urethra suddenly relax.
Absorbent pads and urinary catheters may help those individuals who continue to have incontinence. The absorbent pads are not bulky like in the old days but are close fitting underwear with liners. Absorbent products include shields, undergarments, protective underwear, briefs, diapers, adult diapers and underpads.
Hospitals often use some type of incontinence pad, a small but highly absorbent sheet placed beneath the patient, to deal with incontinence or other unexpected discharges of bodily fluid. These pads are especially useful when it is not practical for the patient to wear a diaper.