Functional incontinence

Functional incontinence occurs not from bladder problems, but rather from more physical problems of actually getting to the toilet in time. This could be because of poor eyesight, mobility issues, neurological conditions or more cognitive problems like dementia.

About functional incontinence

Functional incontinence is more a condition of circumstance than any problems with the bladder. It occurs when someone has difficulty in reaching the toilet or being able to move quickly enough to remove clothing or transfer from a mobility device.

Although it occurs mainly in the elderly who are mobility impaired, Functional Incontinence (either urinary or faecal) can also happen to anyone who has a disability and may find it difficult to reach a toilet in time. Another compounding factor is that restrooms aren’t always disability friendly.

Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to protect against Functional Incontinence that can mean the difference between having accidents and staying dry.

What causes functional incontinence

Even though there are many possible causes, people with Functional Incontinence may actually be physiologically fine. More often than not, the problem is some kind of impairment that prevents a person from moving quick enough to get to the bathroom, remove clothing, or transfer from a wheelchair in order to use a toilet. Some causes of Functional Incontinence include:

  • Blindness or poor eyesight — Sometimes unfamiliar surroundings can provide obstacles that prevent clear access to a restroom.
  • Mobility impairment — Wheelchair bound people can often encounter obstacles that make getting to the bathroom difficult. They also have to contend with restrooms that aren’t disability friendly.
  • Musculoskeletal conditions — Primarily arthritis but other musculoskeletal conditions could prevent quick enough access to a toilet.
  • Neurological conditions — Specific neurological conditions including Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis (MS) may cause both Functional Incontinence and Urge Incontinence and occur because damage to the nervous system makes urine control difficult.
  • Mental illness — Functional incontinence may arise from problems with thinking or communicating properly. For example, a person with dementia, may not be able to think clearly enough to plan a trip, or even recognise the need to use the toilet. Likewise, people with severe depression may lose all desire to take proper care for themselves, including using a restroom.
  • Medications — Some medications, like strong sedatives, can cause grogginess, meaning a person may not recognise the need to use the restroom until it's too late.
  • Temporary illnesses and injury — Even a temporary setback such as severe back pain or a broken leg can result in Functional Incontinence if forward planning isn’t taken into consideration.

Functional incontinence treatment

Functional incontinence is best treated by not only addressing the medical conditions that cause or contribute to the problem, but by also looking at factors within your environment so that you can improve accessibility to the bathroom.

If you suffer from a medical condition that is causing Functional Incontinence, getting treatment that improves your condition and in turn gives you quicker access to the bathroom should be a priority.

The key, of course, is preventing episodes from occurring in the first place. That said, there are some things you can do to manage Functional Incontinence. Here are a few management techniques and tips to help you reduce the risk and perhaps avoid accidents both at home and when you’re out.

  • Bladder training — This involves scheduling the amount of time between trips to the toilet. Initially you start by going every couple of hours. However, if you feel the urge to go between trips, you should stand or sit still, contract your pelvic muscles, and concentrate on making the urge to urinate go away. You should slowly increase intervals until you are able to go three to four hours without using the bathroom.
  • Pelvic muscle exercises — Also called Kegel exercises, they are designed to strengthen the muscles that support the bladder and urethra to prevent leakage. Kegel exercises focus on isolating and contracting your pelvic muscles which, with practice, may be helpful in preventing accidents as you try to get to the bathroom.
  • Walking — Can be helpful because it improves your sense that your bladder is filling and helps you recognise the need to urinate and head toward the bathroom before it's too late.
  • Scheduled, timed, or prompted voiding — If you make regular, scheduled trips to the bathroom, you may be less likely to have to go in a hurry.

Also consider these handy tips that could further help prevent Functional Incontinence

  • One of the most obvious things to do at home is to ensure accessibility to your bathroom is clear and that there are no obstacles in the way that could prevent unrestricted access. You might also want to think about leaving the bathroom door open and lights on at all times so it is easy to locate and access.
  • Zips, clasps, belts and buttons can be a huge hindrance if you need to get to the toilet quickly, so make sure your clothing is easy to remove. As an example, try wearing pants with elastic waists.
  • If you’re new to or having trouble transferring from a wheelchair to toilet, have a family member or friend with you who can help. If you’re at home, consider having devices such as grab bars and a raised toilet seat installed to help in transferring to the toilet.
  • When you’re out, make it a point to know where the restrooms are. That way you won’t have to waste time asking for directions if you need to go.

Depend® has a range of incontinence aids for both men and women specifically designed to absorb bladder leakage and give you confidence when out or when you’re with family and friends.