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Incontinence shouldn't block people from seeking medical help

Carol Bursack of Minding Our Elders

Dear Carol: My mom is smart, stylish and trim. She was very social but now that's changed. Occasional, minor urinary incontinence has become a problem and she's acting like her life is over. I've told her that women who've had babies often have this issue and that there are products that she can use. Of course, she knows this, but she says that's not an option. Meanwhile, she is becoming reclusive which is not like her. I've told her that her doctor may have some ideas but she says that talking to her doctor about this is humiliating. How do I convince her that this one issue doesn't need to ruin her otherwise exceptional life? — Kate

Dear Kate: It does seem that any amount of incontinence is disproportionately depressing to many people considering how many other, larger, issues can occur with aging. Likely the reason for this is that it makes people feel that they are beginning to lose control over their body.

While having trouble accepting incontinence is probably normal, your mom seems to be taking this harder than warranted, which makes it even more important that she see her doctor, or perhaps another doctor if she wants more anonymity. Her attitude is worrisome.

You are correct in telling her that there are new products on the market that can discreetly take care of this issue. Seeing her doctor comes first, though. There could be health reasons why this is happening. No doctor is going to be surprised or respond in a negative manner when an older woman mentions incontinence issues.

Could you confide in one of your mother's close friends? This would preferably be a woman who is your mom's contemporary since this is such a common issue for older women. If her friend approached her in a way that suggested that she, too, has some incontinence issues, this friend may be able to convince your mom to see her doctor.

Assuming that she eventually does see her doctor, and the doctor doesn't find an infection or some other reason for her incontinence, the doctor will likely suggest Kegeling, which is a method of exercising the pelvic floor muscles. Often this can help the person regain muscle control and solve the problem. There are countless internet sites that tell people how to do this, with varying degrees of accuracy, but the National Institutes of Health (NIH) site is a reliable place to start.

Other suggestions the doctor may have can include physical therapy, biofeedback and yes, medications. The medications are not side effect-free, though, so other choices are generally a preferred place to start. Occasionally, surgery is an option.

You are right to be concerned about your mom's depressive state and isolation over this issue. Keep trying to convince her to see her doctor so that she can gain some perspective. Once she's taken action she'll likely feel better. Action often leads to a feeling of control that aging people often feel slipping away.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carolbursack@msn.com.

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