As we age, we come to expect that things will change. The appearance of fine lines and wrinkles around the eyes and mouth, we come to think of as laughter lines. The odd, stray grey hair is a sign of us aging gracefully. Some are welcome changes, but there are others, such as shopping for incontinence products, which are not.
Once incontinence arrives, we assume it is a permanent change, another addition to a long list of age-related ailments. It is something to remain hidden, an embarrassment of old age and something to laugh at when you can’t make the loo on time.
But it need not be this way. In fact, urinary incontinence is not something that has to come with old age, and neither is it something that you should ‘learn to live with’, ‘put up with’, or be embarrassed about.
How the bladder and bowel work?
Understanding how the bladder and bowel work is the first step in understanding how making small changes, additions and omissions to your diet and lifestyle can have a positive impact on your bladder and bowel.
- The bladder
The bladder is a muscular balloon-shaped bag in the lower part of the body and is supported by pelvic floor muscles. Urine is made in the kidneys and then passes down ureters and stored in the bladder until you are ready to pee.
When you feel the urge, the bladder contracts and then relaxes – when you tell it too – and you pee. Your brain controls your bladder, automatically sending messages telling it when to hold on and when to empty.
A normal bladder empties around four to seven times each day – every three to four hours – and can hold up to a pint of urine or around 600ml. You may wake once or twice in the night to pee too. Your bladder should be able to hold your urine long enough so that you get to the loo in time, and you shouldn’t accidentally leak urine either.
- The bowel
The bowel is the part of the body that processes food and releases waste. Food passes from the stomach into the top part of the bowel. It passes along this tract where fluid is absorbed, and any undigested food is pushed through to the bowel, where it is passed as faeces.
When the bowel motion arrives in the rectum, it creates a sensation of fullness. When you go to the look, the anal sphincter relaxes and your pass the motion through the rectum and out the anus.
Normal bowel motions should be soft and easy to pass. You may empty your bowel several times a day or once every two to three days, either is normal. But you shouldn’t strain when you pass a stool.
Aging effects on the bladder and bowel
The bladder and bowels are both muscles. Over time, they can become weaker as a result of all kinds of factors. For women, pregnancy and childbirth can have an impact on the pelvic floor muscles around the bladder; they can become weaker and fail to do their job properly.
For the bowel, a decrease in exercise and movement, changes in diet and so on can all affect how well it works. Constipation can be something that older people suffer from too.
Some commonalities affect the bladder and bowel. The majority are reversible too, which is great news and can place you back in control of your bladder and bowel. There are other conditions and illnesses, such as Parkinson’s that can have an impact on bladder and bowel control that can make controlling incontinence difficult. Managing it with high-quality incontinence products is key.
- Not drinking enough water – staying hydrated as we age is important. But is something that we often fail to do. If you are suffering from stress incontinence, for example – you pee a little when you cough, sneeze or laugh – then drinking more water may lead you to think it will get worse. The bladder, however, may be irritated by dehydration so increasing your intake of water, even by an extra glass or two can have a big impact.
- Constipation – being constipated places pressure on both the bowel and the bladder. As well as drinking more water, increasing your intake of soluble and insoluble fibres will help to restore a smooth flow through your digestive system.
Aging will affect your bladder and bowel, but this doesn’t mean that they should not function correctly, nor leave you reliant of incontinence products. If small changes in your lifestyle don’t help, there are medications that can help.
HARTMANN Direct are suppliers of incontinence products, suitable for urinary and bowel incontinence, to both individual customers and those agencies working within a care setting. HARTMANN Direct believe that people should not only receive the best in affordable incontinence products but the best in information and advice too.