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Overcoming the Social and Emotional Impacts of Incontinence

It is the most prevalent problem in the senior population, yet few seniors want to discuss this problem with their doctors because they are embarrassed.

Imagine planning your life around the fear that you may lose bladder control. You might rethink attending the latest Broadway show. Perhaps you’ll begin to dine with friends less frequently or begin to skip church and social functions to avoid the embarrassment of frequent trips to the bathroom. Waiting in a long line could become intimidating and voicing your fears would be unthinkable. While the prevalence of urinary incontinence increases with age, it is not a normal part of aging, and it does not define what it means to become older. It can, however, have a noticeable impact on the emotions and lives of senior adults who suffer from it.

Overcoming the Social and Emotional Impacts of Incontinence

Incontinence affects 200 million people worldwide, both men and women, and 25 million adults in the United States. It is the most prevalent problem in the senior population, yet few seniors want to discuss this problem with their doctors because they are embarrassed or believe this is a normal part of aging with which they must simply learn to cope. Without treatment and guidance from medical professionals, seniors who experience loss of bladder control may find the issue controls their lives.

Older adults who suffer from incontinence often battle depression and anxiety because of negative perceptions about their inability to control basic bodily functions. This can trigger a vicious cycle where the older adult starts to withdraw from activities he or she once enjoyed and begins to lose self-efficacy, which in turn contributes to depression. As a result, the senior’s overall quality of life starts to decline.

This withdrawal due to incontinence may also cause the older adult to become more dependent on others’ help with daily activities, such as shopping or running errands, and with personal hygiene. For family caregivers, this change can often be the catalyst for sending the older adult to a nursing home or assisted living facility, which can be costly and may additionally reduce the senior’s quality of life as he or she loses independence.

Managing the Effects of Incontinence

Seniors who experience incontinence should first speak with their doctors about the problem. There are many treatments and home therapies for curing or managing the condition so that the senior’s activities are not restricted. If the senior is suffering from depression and anxiety over the condition, his or her doctor can refer the individual to a professional trained in helping the person cope with incontinence issues.

Families who are concerned about a senior family member’s health and hygiene can also seek the help of professional in-home caregivers, such as Comfort Keepers®, who are trained in incontinence management and can assist with personal hygiene. Families can also offer support to the individual and let him or her know that incontinence is nothing to be ashamed of and that the condition can be treated while leaving the senior’s dignity intact.


Broome, B.A. (August 22, 2003). The impact of urinary incontinence on self-efficacy and quality of life. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes 2003, 1(35). doi:10.1186/1477-7525-1-35. Retrieved from

National Association for Continence. (n.d.) Facts & Statistics. Retrieved from

Shah, D. and Badlani, G.Treatment of Overactive Bladder and Incontinence in the Elderly. Rev Urol. 4(Suppl 4), S38–S43.Retrieved from

Women's Health and Education Center. (July 23, 2009). Psychosocial impact of incontinence. Retrieved from

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