Above: It’s important to expect changes of all kinds, including bladder changes, as we grow older. Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay.

Our bladders change as we age. But the results of those changes and how they occur are among topics most of us don’t ever really talk about, at least in public.

Still, as bladder issues confront many seniors, we thought that May which is designated Pelvic Pain Month), would be a good time to address some common bladder troubles.

There is a long list of items that can (and often do) affect our pelvic health. For example, situations like a serious pelvic injury from an auto or bicycle accident, or constant constipation — or even being overweight — can make a difference in how you and your bladder are getting along.

At the same time, be aware that pelvic pain can be caused by something other than aging. Certain pain may be an indication of more serious issues located within the pelvic cavity.

Bladder problems, however, are not usually painful unless there’s a related infection.

Dr. Murphy Townsend
Dr. Murphy Townsend

Both men and women experience unwanted changes in urination as they grow older, Dr. Murphy Townsend of WellStar Urology says. “There are many effects of aging on the bladder that lead to these untoward bladder symptoms,” Townsend said.

One effect of aging is the loss of bladder elasticity, and, according to the National Institute on Aging. “A less stretchy, aging bladder cannot hold as much urine as it used to.”

So, simply because they’re getting older, seniors can find themselves repeatedly awakened during the night with the sense of a full bladder.

In addition, “The bladder wall and pelvic floor muscles may weaken, making it harder to fully empty the bladder,” according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA). That sometimes causes leakage, or urinary incontinence, the NIA said.

Generally, incontinence is simply a nuisance or inconvenience, but it can be worse. It’s something that happens to an estimated 10% of people 65 or older, according to WebMD.

The changes seniors confront can vary, based on gender.

Women commonly experience changes such as an increase in urgency, the feeling of needing to find relief immediately, and increased frequency called an “overactive bladder,” Townsend said. Men, too, may experience symptoms of urinary urgency and frequency, as well as a slowing of urination, with difficulty starting a urinary stream — which can mean more nighttime visits to the restroom.

Bladders are pieces of our urinary tracts that are located in the lower areas of our abdomens. The full urinary system includes two bean-shaped kidneys, two ureters (the tubes leading to the bladder), one bladder and one urethra. The bladder is typically the size of a large grapefruit, according to medical texts, and it’s made of tissue that stretches to accommodate the liquid it holds.

Adults pass about a quart and a half of urine every day, the NIA says, and, as many seniors know, that can lead to a lot of restroom breaks when people are traveling or socializing.

There are a variety of ways to address bladder problems.

“Depending on the symptoms, self-help for everyone comes in the form of hydration, weight optimization, and the daily habit of Kegel exercises,” said Townsend.

Medications and procedure that can improve unwanted symptoms are available to both sexes. Also, one should limit caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods.

If you are struggling with leakage or uncomfortable feeling, be sure to speak with your primary care provider about making an appointment with a board-certified urologist.

Judi Kanne

Judi Kanne is a public health communications consultant and contributing writer to Atlanta Senior Life.