Poll: Half of women over 50 experience incontinence, but most haven't talked to a doctor

November 01, 2018

Nearly half of women over 50 say they sometimes leak urine -- a problem that can range from a minor nuisance to a major issue -- according to a new national poll.

Of more than 1,000 women between the ages of 50 and 80 who answered the poll, 43 percent of women in their 50s and early 60s said they had had experienced urinary incontinence, as had 51 percent of those age 65 and over.

Yet two-thirds of these women hadn't talked to a doctor about the sometimes embarrassing, little-discussed issue. And only 38 percent said they do exercises that can strengthen the muscles that can help keep urine in.

The poll shows they're finding ways of coping on their own - from using pads or special underwear to wearing dark clothing and limiting fluid intake.

The new findings from the National Poll on Healthy Aging suggest that more physicians should routinely ask their older female patients about incontinence issues they might be experiencing. The poll of 1,027 women between the ages of 50 and 80 was conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, and sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M's academic medical center.

"Urinary incontinence is a common condition that may not be routinely screened for in primary care, yet it can impact a woman's quality of life and health, and is usually treatable," says Carolyn Swenson, M.D., a urogynecologist at Michigan Medicine and IHPI member who helped develop the poll questions and analyze the findings. "It's not an inevitable part of aging and shouldn't be over-looked."

Swenson studies delivery of women's health care, especially related to the pelvic floor - the structures and muscles that support the bladder and reproductive organs. She notes that there are non-surgical and surgical options for treating incontinence.

Of the women who said they'd experienced at least some urine leakage, 41 percent described it as a major problem or somewhat of a problem. One-third of those with leakage experienced an episode almost every day. Nearly half worried that it would get worse as they got older.

The most common triggers were coughing or sneezing - experienced by 79 percent - and trying to get to a bathroom in time, experienced by 64 percent. But 49 percent said they'd leaked when laughing, and 37 percent said it had happened when they exercised.

"The last thing that older women should be doing is avoiding exercise or not being able to enjoy other activities that make life worthwhile," says Preeti Malani, M.D., director of the poll and a professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School who has special training in geriatric medicine. "We hope these findings will help spur conversations between women and their health care providers, so that activities aren't limited."

Coping strategies

Women reported doing many things to cope with incontinence, including 59 percent who said they'd bought special pads or undergarments. Sixteen percent had cut down on the amount of fluid they drink, and 15 percent said they'd changed what they wore to hide accidents in case they occurred.

But only 38 percent had done Kegel exercises, which involve squeezing and releasing the muscles of the pelvic floor. Such pelvic floor muscle exercises can be an effective treatment when done correctly and consistently, especially as part of pelvic floor physical therapy with a specialized physical therapist.

"It's both surprising and disheartening to see that so many women seem to believe that incontinence is just a normal part of aging because it's not," says Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of research for AARP. "A lot of women are unnecessarily limiting their daily activities and not enjoying life fully because of a condition that can often be remedied."

Consulting with providers

Women older than 65 were more likely to have talked with a medical provider about their incontinence than younger women. So were women who reported being embarrassed by their urine leakage or said it was a problem for them.

Among women who didn't talk with their doctor about their urinary incontinence, 22 percent said they didn't think of urine leakage as a health problem, so they didn't discuss it with their doctor. But Swenson notes that many treatment options now exist for urinary incontinence, and that Medicare and private insurers routinely cover both medical and surgical treatments.

Swenson is part of the Pelvic Floor Disorders treatment team at Michigan Medicine's Von Voigtlander Women's Hospital, which offers a full range of treatments for urinary incontinence and other pelvic floor issues. Such treatments range from physical therapy and pessary devices to nerve stimulation, injections done in the office to prevent exercise-related incontinence, and minimally invasive surgery.

The poll results are based on responses from a nationally representative sample of 1,027 women ages 50 to 80 who answered a wide range of questions online. Questions were written, and data interpreted and compiled, by the IHPI team. Laptops and Internet access were provided to poll respondents who did not already have it.
-end-
A full report of the findings and methodology is available at http://www.healthyagingpoll.org, along with past National Poll on Healthy Aging reports.

Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

Related Aging Articles from Brightsurf:

Surprises in 'active' aging
Aging is a process that affects not only living beings.

Aging-US: 'From Causes of Aging to Death from COVID-19' by Mikhail V. Blagosklonny
Aging-US recently published ''From Causes of Aging to Death from COVID-19'' by Blagosklonny et al. which reported that COVID-19 is not deadly early in life, but mortality increases exponentially with age - which is the strongest predictor of mortality.

Understanding the effect of aging on the genome
EPFL scientists have measured the molecular footprint that aging leaves on various mouse and human tissues.

Muscle aging: Stronger for longer
With life expectancy increasing, age-related diseases are also on the rise, including sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass due to aging.

Aging memories may not be 'worse, 'just 'different'
A study from the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences in Arts & Sciences adds nuance to the idea that an aging memory is a poor one and finds a potential correlation between the way people process the boundaries of events and episodic memory.

A new biomarker for the aging brain
Researchers at the RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research (BDR) in Japan have identified changes in the aging brain related to blood circulation.

Scientists invented an aging vaccine
A new way to prevent autoimmune diseases associated with aging like atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease was described in the article.

The first roadmap for ovarian aging
Infertility likely stems from age-related decline of the ovaries, but the molecular mechanisms that lead to this decline have been unclear.

Researchers discover new cause of cell aging
New research from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering could be key to our understanding of how the aging process works.

Deep Aging Clocks: The emergence of AI-based biomarkers of aging and longevity
The advent of deep biomarkers of aging, longevity and mortality presents a range of non-obvious applications.

Read More: Aging News and Aging Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.