A person who has functional incontinence may not recognize that they need to use the restroom. They may also not know where to find a toilet or how to get in the best position to go to the bathroom.

For many people with incontinence, the root cause is a malfunction of the urinary, muscular, or neurological systems. This isn’t the case with functional incontinence, however. Functional incontinence is caused by physical barriers or mental issues. They make it difficult for a person to get to a toilet in time.

With functional incontinence, a person passes urine before getting to the toilet. The amount of urine can vary. It may be just a leak, or it could be everything in the bladder. Functional incontinence in and of itself shouldn’t cause pain.

How long your symptoms persist depends largely on if and how your incontinence can be managed. For some people, functional incontinence may be a temporary condition. For others, especially those whose incontinence is caused by other, long-term issues, the condition may need to be managed indefinitely.

Possible causes of functional incontinence include:

  • poor vision
  • psychological issues
  • environmental barriers to using the restroom
  • cognitive issues, including forms of dementia, delirium, and intellectual disabilities
  • neurological or muscular limitations, such as arthritis

Muscular limitations such as arthritis may affect a person’s ability to get to the bathroom or remove clothing in a timely manner.

People who are at risk of this type of incontinence likely have another medical issue or condition. In particular, older adults are more susceptible to factors that can lead to functional incontinence, such as dementia-related illnesses or conditions affecting mobility and dexterity.

People may experience functional incontinence differently. For instance, a person with arthritis may urinate accidentally not because they forgot to go or were surprised by the need to urinate, but because they couldn’t unbutton or unzip their clothing quickly enough. A person with dementia may not remember where the bathroom is located. A person with poor eyesight may not be able to see well enough to get there in time.

According to the Urology Care Foundation, 25 to 33 percent of Americans deal with urinary incontinence in some form. It’s more common in women. Incontinence also becomes more prevalent as people age or undergo bodily changes such as pregnancy and delivery.

Seeking an evaluation from a medical professional is the first step in trying to manage incontinence. A professional will look at your medical history, including any current conditions you have and medications you take. They will also likely ask about your general health. Topics can include:

  • diet
  • hydration
  • exercise habits
  • general mobility

You will likely undergo some routine tests. A doctor may ask you to do something simple, such as closing your mouth and nose while giving a heavy breath. They may also perform a urinalysis, which doctors use to screen urine for abnormalities.

A doctor may decide to perform less common tests as well. They may examine your pelvic floor strength, bladder strength, and abnormalities in your urinary tract.

You may also be asked to keep a diary tracking:

  • food intake
  • water intake
  • urinary and bowel movements
  • when incontinence becomes an issue

You can’t prevent functional incontinence or the conditions that lead to it. However, you may find relief by managing the underlying condition. If your incontinence is tied to a long-term condition, treatment may be a matter of better symptom management.

There are a variety of things that can help with bladder control, as well. For example, regular exercise can help. Try getting 30 minutes of walking per day.

Also, head to the bathroom as soon as you feel any urge to go. You should also schedule regular trips to the bathroom. Anyone with cognitive problems should be encouraged to try going to the bathroom on a regular schedule, as well.

People who have issues seeing the toilet may benefit from installing extra lights in their home bathroom and carrying a flashlight on their keychain for when they are outside the home.

Pelvic floor exercises may also help people who have issues getting to the bathroom in time. Cutting back on alcohol and caffeinated drinks can also reduce how often you need to use the bathroom.

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