Which Conditions Can Lead to Functional Incontinence?

Functional incontinence is a condition in which people experience leakage of urine despite normal function of the bladder and urinary tract. In other words, the individual does not have the ability to recognize that they need the bathroom or have the ability to get there quickly enough by themselves. Treatment for functional incontinence typically involves managing the underlying cause and restoring function to the affected area.

Main Causes of Functional Incontinence

The inability to get to a restroom before the need to urinate occurs usually stems from either physical or cognitive issues. For example, elderly people who are not as fast or mobile as it used to be may experience functional incontinence. This can also stem from chronic or temporary pain from arthritis or an injury, poor vision that makes it difficult to navigate the space safely, or lack of dexterity that makes it difficult to undress.

Cognitive causes of functional incontinence include Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia, intellectual disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, and even severe concussions. These can also be long-term problems or ones associated with an injury or similar short-term condition.

A Functional Incontinence Diagnosis

When a physician talks to a patient or their caregiver about urinary incontinence issues, they will try to find out all the circumstances surrounding any accidents. Also, they will ask questions about how the person feels when the urge to use the bathroom hits or whether a certain action like sneezing or laughing caused the leak. Of course, overall health checks and a rundown of current medications also helps with a diagnosis.

Since the individual has trouble getting to the bathroom on time usually has another diagnosis first like dementia, and intellectual disability, or even a broken leg, the physician will consider that as a contributing factor.

What Can Be Done About Functional Incontinence?

If the person is physically and cognitively capable of handling their own bathroom functions, it can help to ensure the path to their house is clear, all bathrooms are accessible, and that there is sufficient lighting in every room. Equipment like raised toilet seats, grab bars, and nonslip naps can help make the whole thing easier and safer for those with some mobility issues. For those with fine motor skill or dexterity issues, easy access clothing that uses hook and loop closures rather than buttons may present a great option.

In general, it helps to schedule trips to the bathroom so that they can avoid the bladder before the urge becomes severe. This can help reduce the chance of accidents and give the person more confidence that they can control their own comfort better.

If, however, the person is not physically or cognitively capable, their caregiver needs to take over these important tasks. Absorbent undergarments can provide peace of mind and protection if necessary. These are often used in the beginning as a ‘just in case’ measure, but may become a permanent option for chronic conditions or increasing functional incontinence due to aging.

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