Over the next 40 years, the number of people 85 and older will triple to 19 million – from 6.7 million now. And every one of them will have the same urinary system they were born with. It just might not function the same.
So, what does a change in urinary function mean if you are among that group now, caring for someone in their 80s and 90s, or plan to live into your 90s yourself? There are steps you can take now to reduce or limit some of the most common age-related affects.
How Our Urinary Systems Age With Us
The urinary system often reflects overall health. So the steps one takes early to maximize urinary health, such as exercise, drinking lots of non-stimulating beverages, and not holding it in too long, will pay off.
Some conditions may be unavoidable, however. Here is a list of four common urinary issues that occur more frequently as people age.
- Urinary tract infections (UTI). Mainly a concern for women, a UTI develops when bacteria invades the urinary tract. As many as half of all women get UTIs at least once in their lifetimes, compared to only 3% of all men. However, UTIs become more likely and potentially serious as we age. This is due in part to a weakening of the immune system as well as issues such as urinary incontinence and retention. Adult briefs also can contribute because they maintain close contact with the skin and raise the risk of bacteria entering the urethra. As we age, our bodies may react to UTI infections differently, causing dizziness, confusion, and loss of coordination. Untreated, a UTI can result in kidney infections and/or sepsis. Drinking plenty of water is one way to help reduce chances of developing at UTI.
- Urinary incontinence. Accidental urine leakage is often the result of muscle weakness in the bladder and is more common among older people – women especially. In fact, more than half of people aged 65 and older experience urinary and/or bowl incontinence, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And 80% of adults 80 and older get up at least once a night to urinate. There are other causes of urinary incontinence, including UTIs, weak pelvic floor muscles, nerve damage, and an enlarged prostate (among men). Fortunately, many treatments can manage incontinence, from medications to nerve stimulation or surgery. Consult with your urologist to learn more about incontinence and its treatment options.
- Enlarged prostate. Most men’s prostates grow during their lifetime. This is called benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH. Although some men experience no symptoms, this growth may block the urethra and the flow of urine out of the body, creating urinary issues for many men. As men age, BPH is more likely – up to 90% experience symptoms by age 80. While BPH is not cancerous, it can lead to other health issues including kidney stones, UTIs, bladder damage, and/or bladder and kidney infections. The most common symptoms involve a change in urination, notably more difficulty starting to pee and a weak urine stream. Talk to your urologist if you experience symptoms of BPH, as many treatment options are available.
- Bladder cancer. Although it’s not a common cancer, the odds of being diagnosed with bladder cancer climb with age. More than 70% of all cases are among people 65 and older, though the odds are much higher among men: 90% of the men diagnosed are older than 55. Risk factors include tobacco smoking, exposure to carcinogens, and radiation. The most common symptoms are pain during urination and blood in the urine (hematuria). It’s important to talk to your urologist if you experience these symptoms.
Know your Urology, and Your Urologist
The best step toward preventing age-related urinary issues from becoming serious is to make an annual urology checkup part of your healthcare routine. Your urologist is specially trained to look for specific symptoms and will ask the right questions.
And if symptoms arise before the annual appointment, don’t wait. Just like holding your pee in isn’t good for you, neither is putting off talking about urinary symptoms.