As we age, our bodies change in many ways. Some of these changes are subtle, while others are more pronounced. One change that many older adults experience is a decline in bladder control. This can lead to urinary incontinence or the involuntary loss of urine.
Urinary incontinence can be a distressing condition, but several treatments are available to help manage it. One of the most common treatments is catheterization.
While catheterization can be a lifesaver for many older adults, it is important to be aware of the potential risks and complications. One of the biggest risks of catheterization is infection. Bacteria can easily travel up the catheter and into the bladder, leading to a urinary tract infection (UTI). UTIs can be serious, especially in older adults.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 1.5 million people in the United States use urinary catheters. Catheters can be used for short-term or long-term use. Short-term catheters are typically used for a few days or weeks, while long-term catheters are used for months or years.
A urinary catheter is a thin, flexible tube inserted into the urethra or bladder to drain urine. Catheters can be used for a variety of reasons, including:
- Incontinence: Catheters can be used to manage incontinence in people who are unable to control their bladder.
- Obstruction: Catheters can be used to bypass an obstruction in the urinary tract, such as a tumor or enlarged prostate gland.
- Surgery: Catheters are often used during surgery to drain urine and prevent the bladder from becoming too full.
- Injury: Catheters may be used in people with a spinal cord injury or other neurological condition affecting their bladder control.
- Measurement: Catheters can be used to measure the amount of urine produced in a given period of time.
Benefits of Using a Urinary Catheter
- Catheters can improve the quality of life for people with incontinence by allowing them to participate in activities of daily living without fear of accidents.
- Catheters can also prevent complications from incontinence, such as skin breakdown and infections.
- Catheters can be used to monitor urine output and detect any abnormalities.
- Catheters can be used to deliver medications or irrigation solutions directly to the bladder.
Aging and Catheter Use
The risk of urinary incontinence increases with age. According to the National Institute on Aging, an estimated 30-50% of older adults experience some form of incontinence. As a result, catheter use is more common in older adults than in younger adults.
Caregivers often play a vital role in helping older adults use and maintain urinary catheters. Caregivers can provide assistance with inserting and removing catheters, as well as with cleaning and caring for catheters. Caregivers can also help to educate older adults about catheter use and potential complications.
How caregivers can help with catheter use
- Provide assistance with inserting and removing catheters. Caregivers can assist with inserting and removing catheters, especially for older adults who have difficulty doing so independently.
- Help to clean and care for catheters. Caregivers can help to clean and care for catheters according to the manufacturer's instructions. This includes flushing the catheter with sterile water and changing the catheter bag regularly.
- Educate older adults about catheter use and potential complications. Caregivers can educate older adults about catheter use and possible complications, such as infections and urinary tract stones.
- Monitor for signs and symptoms of infection. Caregivers should monitor older adults for signs and symptoms of infection, such as fever, chills, and cloudy urine. The caregiver should contact the older adult's healthcare provider if any of these signs or symptoms are present.
Urinary catheters can be valuable for managing incontinence and other urinary problems. However, knowing the potential complications associated with catheter use is important. Caregivers can play a vital role in helping older adults use and maintain urinary catheters safely and effectively.
Types of Catheters
There are several catheters that medical professionals may use. Several options are available, and choosing the most suitable one can significantly impact the patient's comfort and quality of life.
Review the various types of catheters and the factors to consider when determining which type best fits you, a loved one, or a patient under your care.
Intermittent catheters are single-use catheters inserted into the bladder to drain urine and removed immediately afterward. They are a good option for people needing occasional bladder drainage, such as spinal cord injuries or multiple sclerosis. Intermittent catheters can also be used by people with long-term urinary retention issues, but they are best suited for those who can self-insert them or have the assistance of a caregiver.
Advantages of intermittent catheters:
- Independence and mobility: Intermittent catheters can be self-inserted by the patient, which gives them greater independence and mobility.
- Reduced risk of infection: Intermittent catheters are single-use devices that reduce the risk of infection.
- Cost-effectiveness: Intermittent catheters are generally more cost-effective than other types of catheters, such as indwelling catheters.
How to use intermittent catheters:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- Clean the catheterization area with soap and water.
- Open the catheter package and remove the catheter.
- Insert the catheter into the urethra and gently push it until it reaches the bladder.
- Allow the urine to drain into the collection bag.
- Once the bladder is empty, remove the catheter.
- Dispose of the catheter and collection bag properly.
It is essential to practice proper hygiene when using intermittent catheters to reduce the risk of infection.
Indwelling catheters, also known as Foley catheters, are designed for long-term use. They are inserted into the bladder and held in place with a small, water-filled balloon. Indwelling catheters are widely recommended for patients with chronic urinary retention or those who are unable to control their bladders due to specific medical conditions, such as spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, or Alzheimer's disease.
When deciding to recommend an indwelling catheter, it is essential to consider factors such as the patient's ability to self-catheterize, mobility restrictions, and potential risks of infection. Indwelling catheters can increase the risk of urinary tract infections, so it is important to provide routine care to minimize any complications that may arise from long-term catheter use.
Routine care for indwelling catheters:
- Clean the catheterization area with soap and water at least once a day.
- Empty the catheter bag regularly, at least every 8 hours.
- Flush the catheter with sterile water at least once a day.
- Change the catheter every 4-6 weeks or sooner if it becomes blocked or damaged.
In addition to the above, here are some additional things to keep in mind about indwelling catheters:
- Indwelling catheters can be uncomfortable or painful for some patients.
- Indwelling catheters can also increase the risk of kidney stones.
- Indwelling catheters should only be used as a last resort if other methods of bladder management are not possible.
Please contact your health professional if you have any questions or concerns about using an indwelling catheter.
External catheters are non-invasive devices that are primarily used by male patients. They are positioned externally and connected to a urine collection bag. There are many different types of leg bags, so it is important to choose the right one for the patient's needs. External catheters are a convenient option for patients who do not want an invasive catheter solution and who can manage their bladder issues effectively.
When considering an external catheter, it is crucial to consider the following factors:
- Skin integrity: External catheters can irritate the skin, so choosing a size that fits properly and using a skin protectant is important.
- Patient comfort: External catheters should be comfortable for the patient to wear.
- Lifestyle restrictions: External catheters may limit the patient's activities, so choosing a catheter compatible with lifestyle is essential.
Once an external catheter has been chosen, it is crucial to understand proper hygiene and maintenance. This includes:
- Cleaning the catheterization area regularly
- Emptying the urine collection bag regularly
- Changing the catheter regularly
- Preventing leakage and discomfort
If you have any questions or concerns about using an external catheter, please talk to your caregiver or medical professional.
Ultimately, the type of catheter you, a loved one, or a patient will use will depend on the specific needs, lifestyle, and medical condition. Careful evaluation and consultation with specialists will help find the best choice that contributes to overall health and well-being.
About the Author
Mallory Knee is a freelance writer for multiple online publications where she can showcase her affinity for all things beauty and fashion. She particularly enjoys writing for communities of passionate women who come together for a shared interest and empower one another in the process. In her free time, you can find Mallory trying a fun new dinner recipe, practicing calligraphy, or hanging out with her family.
Contributor since September 25th, 2020
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