Types and Causes of Bladder Problems in Seniors

August 30,2023 |
Elderly Man and woman jogging

As we age, our bodies go through several physiological changes. While some of these are beneficial, others are a bit frustrating. Bladder problems in seniors can harm the quality of life and present several physical and emotional challenges. Although age increases the risk of urologic conditions, there are options for treatment and management. The best way to formulate a plan is to understand the different causes of bladder problems in seniors and how to reduce their risk. Here, we’ll cover everything you need to know about bladder problems in aging adults and how to prevent or manage them.

Most Common Types of Bladder Problems in Seniors

Many aging Americans will experience one or more bladder problems in their lifetime, but women are at a higher risk. Amongst these individuals, the most common bladder problems in seniors are as follows.

Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence is one of the most common urologic conditions affecting adults in America. In fact, close to 25 million Americans across the country are currently experiencing one or more types of incontinence. While individuals of any age can experience incontinence, the risk tends to increase as you age. Treatment options do exist, but caring for a loved one with incontinence may require a unique approach.

Overactive Bladder

Overactive bladder (OAB) is another common type of urinary issue that plagues seniors. OAB is a term that’s used to describe a range of urinary symptoms that can affect an individual. While the primary symptom is urinary incontinence, the two are not mutually exclusive. You can read more about the differences between OAB and incontinence here.

Urinary Tract Infection

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can also affect seniors more often than younger individuals. They occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract and cause inflammation. Although UTIs are fairly easy to treat, they can spread up the urinary tract into the bladder and kidneys and cause more serious complications. It’s best to either prevent or quickly treat UTIs, especially in seniors.

Bladder Cancer

Finally, older individuals have a greater risk of developing bladder cancer. Most often, it occurs in individuals over the age of 55, but it can affect anyone. With early detection and prompt treatment, bladder cancer can be addressed more effectively.

5 Causes of Bladder Problems in Seniors

As we age, our bodily functions decline in efficiency. Our muscles weaken, and collagen production declines, making several structures within our bodies less stretchy and resilient. Similarly, our risk for chronic conditions increases, which can impact bladder health. Some of the most common causes of bladder problems in seniors include the following:

  1. Nervous System Disorders

    The nerves throughout our bodies are responsible for sending signals from our brains to our muscles and vice versa. When your bladder fills, the nerves send a signal to your brain to alert you that it’s time to find a toilet. However, sometimes these systems can be disrupted. That’s why one of the biggest causes of bladder problems in seniors is the presence of one or more nervous system disorders. These can occur due to stroke, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or other conditions that affect how your nervous system functions. Neurogenic bladder is another nervous system disorder that can affect the health and efficiency of your bladder.

    When a person suffers from a nervous system disorder, they may not realize that they need to use the bathroom until it’s physically too late. Your brain doesn’t receive the correct signals in time, which can then result in accidents or incontinence. Alternatively, your nerves may start to send signals at inappropriate times. This can also contribute to incontinence. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a nervous system disorder, it’s important to talk to their doctor about appropriate treatment options to help maximize bladder health and improve continence.

  2. Weakened Pelvic Floor Muscles

    Another common cause of bladder problems in seniors is the natural decline in muscle strength throughout the body. Over the years, aging causes your body to lose elasticity and muscle strength, especially in individuals who aren’t actively exercising. This can result in weakened pelvic floor muscles, which are the muscles surrounding the bladder. Urinary incontinence can occur when these muscles are too weak to support the bladder. However, pelvic floor exercises are a great way to strengthen these muscles, regardless of age. The sooner you start, the stronger they will be—you just need to continue engaging them regularly in order to reap the benefits as you age.

  3. Enlarged Prostate

    The prostate is a small, walnut-sized gland that’s present in male anatomy. It’s responsible for producing seminal fluid, which is an essential component of semen. However, the prostate is unique in that it continues to grow from puberty until the end of life. This can lead to cases of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Although not life-threatening, BPH can result in some uncomfortable symptoms and discomfort. Yet, close to 50% of men between the ages of 51 and 60 will experience benign prostatic hyperplasia, and this number jumps to 80% of men over 70 years of age. An enlarged prostate can make it difficult for men to empty their bladder and could result in additional bladder control problems, but there are treatment options that can be explored.

  4. Long-Term Medication Use

    As we age, we become more susceptible to various illnesses and conditions. While many of them can be managed with medications, the side effects can impact bladder health. Some medications are known to increase the likelihood of incontinence, while others may impact the amount of urine produced. Speaking with your doctor can help you better understand what’s causing bladder problems and how to address them.


  5. Diet and Lifestyle Habits

    Finally, diet and lifestyle habits can cause bladder problems in seniors. If you consume too many bladder irritants, it can increase your risk of incontinence, retention, or even frequency. Similarly, a sedentary lifestyle isn’t good for your urinary system. So, try to eat a whole, nutritious diet and keep moving, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day.

How to Improve Bladder Problems in Seniors

Although it may not be completely possible to prevent bladder problems in seniors, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk and manage symptoms. Some of the most effective ways to improve bladder problems in seniors include the following:

Focus on Hydration

Drinking plenty of fluids—especially water—can help ensure the urinary system is functioning at its best. Hydration helps reduce inflammation and flush out bacteria, which is crucial for the long-term health of the urinary tract.

Practice Good Hygiene

Women should continue wiping from front to back, regardless of age. Similarly, aging individuals should receive assistance to bathe sufficiently if they cannot do so on their own. Loose-fitting clothing can also help with hygiene.

Exercise Regularly

Mobility issues can restrict several types of exercises amongst seniors, but there are still benefits to moving your body. Even a nice, long walk can have a ton of health benefits. Alternatively, water aerobics or swimming are great for the body without putting too much pressure on joints.

Use the Bathroom Regularly

Regularly going to the bathroom can help flush the urinary tract, but it can also support a strong pelvic floor. When you hold your urine for too long, it can ultimately weaken your muscles and result in incontinence. Regardless of if you have to go, try to take a trip to the bathroom every three to four hours.

Try to Relax the Bladder

Straining the bladder during urination can also decrease muscle strength, so try to relax and give yourself plenty of time to empty the bladder completely.

Eat Whole, Nutritious Foods

A diet rich in whole, nutritious foods supports bladder health and reduces unnecessary irritation or inflammation. Eat for bladder health and try to limit things like coffee or spicy foods.

Discuss Medications with Your Doctor

Certain medications can increase your risk of bladder problems. If you notice any new symptoms at the onset of a new prescription, talk to your doctor to seek out potential alternatives or treatment options.

To help you maintain optimal bladder function as you age, Byram Healthcare provides various resources and support as needed. We’re also proud to offer full-service urologic care that can be discreetly delivered to your home at any time of the day. Visit our educational support page or our urology product selection guide to learn more.