Functional Incontinence: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Functional Incontinence: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Unlike other types of incontinence, functional incontinence isn’t caused by bladder problems. It occurs from physical problems delaying you from getting to the toilet in time. This can be for various reasons, including mobility issues, poor eyesight, neurological conditions, or cognitive problems such as dementia.

What is functional incontinence?

Functional incontinence is often the result of a physical condition making it difficult to get to the toilet. The reasons could include an inability to remove clothing quickly, or a delay in moving from a wheelchair to the toilet. Some public toilets aren’t disability-friendly, which can also cause problems.

Although functional incontinence is often experienced by elderly people, it can impact anyone with a disability that makes it more difficult to get to a toilet.

What causes functional incontinence?

There are multiple reasons you might experience functional incontinence. These are often linked to mobility issues or neurological and cognitive conditions. Possible causes of functional incontinence include:

  •  Blindness or poor eyesight: Unfamiliar surroundings can make it tougher to locate the toilet.
  •  Mobility issues: Problems with mobility, or being in a wheelchair, can cause delays getting to the toilet.
  •  Musculoskeletal conditions: Some musculoskeletal conditions, like arthritis, can prevent quick access to a toilet.
  •  Neurological conditions: Neurological conditions, like Parkinson's disease and Multiple Sclerosis (MS), may cause functional incontinence and urge incontinence. This is because damage to the nervous system makes it more difficult to control the bladder.
  •  Cognitive illnesses: Functional incontinence may arise from problems thinking or communicating. For example, dementia can make it difficult to plan a trip to the toilet, or recognise the need to go.
  •  Medications: Some medications, including strong sedatives, can cause grogginess, masking the need to use the toilet until it's too late.
  •  Temporary illnesses and injury: A temporary setback, such as severe back pain or a broken leg, can also result in functional incontinence if insufficient time is allocated go to the bathroom.

Treatment for functional incontinence

The best method of treatment for functional incontinence is to look at the medical conditions causing the problem. Additionally, it’s worth assessing if there are any ways accessibility to the bathroom can be improved.

Below are some ways to reduce the impact of functional incontinence:

  •  Clear the route to the toilet: By ensuring the path to the bathroom is clear of obstacles, the door is left open, with lights turned on at night, it becomes much easier to reach the toilet in time.
  •  Wear clothing that is easy to remove: Zips, clasps, belts and buttons can be a hindrance if you need to get to the toilet quickly. Try wearing skirts or trousers with elasticated waists.
  •  Install aids to your bathroom: If using a wheelchair, consider adding grab bars and a raised toilet seat to your bathroom to help. You may be able to apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant from your local council.
  •  Research where the toilets are: If you are going somewhere new, do a little research into where the toilets are, or ask when you arrive. This will avoid wasting time asking for directions at a point when you need to go.

Managing functional incontinence

Depending on the cause of functional incontinence, there may be some ways to manage the effects and reduce the likelihood of an accident.

  •  Bladder training: This involves scheduling the amount of time between trips to the toilet. This might begin with two-hour intervals where, if you feel the need to go between trips, you should stand or sit still, contract your pelvic muscles, and concentrate on making the urge go away. The aim is to increase intervals until you go three to four hours without using the toilet.
  •  Kegel exercises: Also called pelvic floor exercises, these are designed to strengthen the muscles supporting the bladder and urethra to prevent leakage. The exercises focus on isolating and contracting your pelvic muscles which, with practice, may be helpful in preventing accidents.
  •  Walking: This improves the sense that the bladder is filling and helps you recognise the need to go, so you can get to the toilet in good time.
  •  Scheduled, timed, or prompted urination: If you make regular, scheduled trips to the bathroom, you may be less likely to have to go in a hurry.

Find the right incontinence product for you

Regardless of whether the condition can be treated, incontinence can always be managed. To allow wearers to enjoy time out with family and friends without worry, Depend® offers a range of incontinence aids for men and women that are comfortable, discreet and highly absorbent.

Explore our range today to find the right product for you.