According to Health Navigator, over 600,000 New Zealanders have bladder control issues. As many as 1 in 3 women who have had children, and 1 in 10 men do not have full control of their bladder for a variety of reasons. Depending on the type of incontinence you experience, you may be able to improve your bladder control with exercises and lifestyle changes.

Incontinence can be embarrassing and stressful, stopping you from going out or participating in activities, but there are resources and advice that can offer you support and help relieve your symptoms.

Types of incontinence

Older people may experience incontinence in different ways. The main types of incontinence are stress, urge, and overflow. Many people experience a combination of different types of incontinence.

Stress incontinence

This type of incontinence occurs when physical stress or exertion is put on the body, raising abdominal pressure. Small amounts of urine may leak when physical exertion such as coughing, sneezing, jumping, lifting, or exercising is experienced. This type of incontinence is more common in women but may be improved with pelvic exercises and lifestyle changes.

Urge incontinence

Frequently associated with Overactive Bladder Syndrome, urge incontinence is when you get a sudden and overwhelming urge to urinate. This occurs when your bladder contracts unintentionally, which leaves you little or no time to get to the toilet. This can result in uncontrolled leakage which is described as urge incontinence. This type of incontinence can occur in anyone, but is common in women who have had children or people with diabetes or obesity.

Overflow incontinence

This type of incontinence happens when the bladder cannot be emptied properly. When the bladder becomes too full it may overflow and leak small amounts regularly with no warning. Overflow incontinence is common in men with enlarged prostates which block the flow of urine.

Incontinence in older people

Some common problems that affect older people may also affect your incontinence. If you have an enlarged prostate, other health issues such as arthritis, dementia, stroke, Parkinson’s, have been through menopause, have diabetes, or are on some medications, you may be more prone to bladder control issues. For more information on incontinence in older people, check Continence NZ.

When to get help

If your incontinence is becoming a problem, you can talk to your doctor or a specialist. You may want to seek help if you:

  • Frequently have to rush to the toilet
  • Are going to the toilet more than every two hours
  • Are getting up many times during the night
  • Wet the bed
  • Need to change clothes or underclothes due to wetness or smell

Incontinence management and tips

Incontinence problems may be managed or improved with exercises and lifestyle changes.


Pelvic floor exercises can improve incontinence for some people. The pelvic floor is responsible for supporting the bladder and bowel as well as closing the passages for urine and bowel motions. Pelvic floor exercises are designed to help strengthen these muscles and improve bladder control. For more information on pelvic floor exercises, visit Pelvic Floor First.

Bladder retraining

Recording fluid intake and urinary output aims to increase the amount of urine you can comfortably hold without leakage. Bladder training should increase the time between needing to go to the toilet and aims to put you in charge of your body instead of feeling like your body limits your capabilities. Gradual results may be seen if continued for 4-6 weeks. If you do not notice any improvement after this, you may want to seek more help. More information can be found here.


Adjusting your diet may improve incontinence. Ensure you eat enough fibre and do not have excessive fluid intake. You should also avoid alcohol and caffeine as these can irritate your bladder. Maintaining a healthy weight can improve your control of your pelvic floor muscle and improve continence.


Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if any medications you take affect bladder control as a side effect.

If you are still experiencing continence problems, talk to your doctor or specialist, or call the Continence Helpline at 0800 650 659

Websites of interest

  • For information on continence linked to specific health issues, check Continence NZ
  • Continence service providers, including physiotherapists and continence nurses, can be found here
  • To find continence product suppliers in your region, click here
  • If you find you still need to urgently go to the toilet, you can apply for an ‘I Can’t Wait’ card that lets places know you may need to use their private bathroom. You can find more information here