Functional incontinence is urinary or fecal leakage that occurs when the urinary or fecal body systems, respectively, are physiologically working fine. Functional incontinence is the result of mobility challenges with getting to the bathroom and/or dexterity challenges with removing clothing in a reasonable amount of time.
Functional incontinence most often occurs when:
- An individual is adjusting to mobility challenges, such as using a wheelchair, a cane, a walker or another assistive device
- An individual has arthritis, neurological impairment, etc.
Prevention and Treatment and Management Techniques
Preventing, treating and managing functional incontinence are often one in the same, as the best treatment for this type of incontinence is preventing episodes from occurring in the first place. Depending on the causes of the functional incontinence, the following may or may not be applicable:
Follow a timed-voiding schedule so that the bladder and bowel are emptied at predictable times, before it becomes “too late”.
- Leave the bathroom door open and lights on at all times so it is easy to locate and access
- Keep the pathway to the bathroom as clear and open as possible – remove area rugs or trip hazards
- Use pants with an elastic waistband rather than buttons or zippers
- You may want to try using absorbent products or, for men, you can try urine collection devices, although sometimes these products will hinder the individual from using a toilet
- Have devices such as grab bars and a raised toilet seat installed to enhance safe and efficient transfer to the toilet
Tips for Helping Someone with Functional Incontinence
Often caregivers, especially family caregivers, resist helping a person struggling with incontinence because they don’t want to invade personal space or take away the individual’s dignity. It can be uncomfortable assisting someone to the toilet the first few times, but shortly you’ll realize that for the person with incontinence, getting assistance preserves dignity much more so than urinating on one’s self. Once the person is safely seated on the toilet, try to provide as much privacy as possible. This is another important step in preserving dignity, and it also helps facilitate quicker and more complete emptying of the bladder and/or bowel (especially for individuals with a shy bladder).
Medical Reviewer: Mary Ann Anichini, GNP-BC
Ms. Anichini has an undergraduate nursing degree from Loyola University of Chicago and a Masters in nursing sciences from University of Illinois School of Public Health Nursing. She is a certified Geriatric Nurse Practitioner and has worked with older adults in community and institutional settings since 1977. Her work has been involved in the design and development of educational modules for caregivers of the frail elderly with Presbyterian Homes of Chicago, Methodist Homes and Services, The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, The University of Illinois School of Social Work, The National Alzheimer’s Association and The Presbyterian Homes. She has focused on the implementation of “best practices” in the long term care setting. Of greatest interest, are those practices that have the greatest potential to impact quality of life for much of the nursing home population (e.g., Restorative Nursing, Hydration, Bowel Hygiene, and Continence). Currently, Ms. Anichini is currently employed at Hollister Incorporated, a medical device manufacturer that develops and sells devices for Ostomy, Wound Care, and Continence Care.