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Functional Incontinence: Definition & Treatment

Instructor: Virginia Rawls

Virginia has a master' degree in Education and a bachelors in Sports Medicine/athletic Training

Urinary incontinence occurs when a person cannot control when urine leaves their body. But, have you heard the term functional incontinence before? Continue reading to find out what functional incontinence is and how it can be treated.

What is Functional Incontinence?

Imagine an 85-year-old man who is sitting comfy in his favorite recliner. He suddenly has the urge that he needs to urinate. He tries to push himself out of his chair, but the arthritis in his knees makes it hard for him to get up. He tries several times to get himself out of his chair, and finally manages to stand up. He hurries to the bathroom, but he cannot hold it any longer and has an accident in the hallway. This is an example of functional incontinence.

Urinary Incontinence is a medical condition where urine is accidentally leaked from the body because you lack the ability to control when urine leaves the bladder. Functional incontinence occurs when you know you need to urinate, but physical or emotional problems keep you from getting to the bathroom in time.

Causes of Functional Incontinence

The urinary system is designed to eliminate waste products from the body. The bladder acts as a holding station for urine until it can be removed. But the bladder can only hold so much urine before it starts sending signals to the brain and surrounding muscles that it is full. No matter how hard you can try to hold it, there comes a time when your body gives in and the urine comes out.

The bladder is responsible for storing urine
urinary system

What types of things can keep someone from being able to get to the bathroom in time? This list will help you to better understand what can cause functional incontinence.

Physical Causes:

  • Arthritis
  • Joint pain
  • Back pain
  • Inability to remove clothing fast enough
  • Moving from a wheelchair to a toilet

Mental Causes:

  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Not knowing where the bathroom is located

How Can Functional Incontinence Be Treated?

The only way to treat functional incontinence is to treat the problem(s) that are causing it.

Some of the physical causes may be very easy to fix, like properly taking medications for arthritis and joint/back pain; wearing clothing that is easy to get off, including not wearing clothing with zippers or buttons; making bathrooms easier to get to by removing clutter in rooms and hallways; and making bathrooms handicap accessible in the home.

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