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The Aging Pelvic Floor: Frailty to Functional Deficits

An 80 year old lady who had seen a physical therapist where I once worked in Naperville, IL, just completed a marathon and a 5k race in one weekend. She is undoubtedly one woman who can change our perception of the “elderly,” but we all know her strength and ability are not the norm. The geriatric patients coming to therapy for pelvic floor disorders are more likely to be too frail to have run a mile this century, and they are most likely struggling with functional ADLs, as research suggests.

A study by Erekson et al., (2015) looked into the prevalence of frailty, cognitive impairment, and functional disability among women over 65 years of age looking for the best treatment for their pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD). A major concern was the presence of frailty being equated with poorer surgical outcomes. The 150 women in the study were tested with the Fried Frailty Index to measure frailty, the Saint Louis University Mental Status Score for cognitive screening, and the Katz ADL score for functional status. Pelvic organ prolapse was present in 65.3% women, urinary incontinence in 20.7%, overactive bladder in 9.3%, and anal incontinence in 0.7%. Sixteen percent of women were considered frail and 42% were “prefrail.” Dementia was determined in 21.3% of women, and functional disability in 30.7%. Pelvic floor dysfunction in women with frailty caused a significantly greater life-impact than in normal and pre-frail women. Forty-six percent of the subjects opted for surgery, but only women with functional disability, not impaired cognition nor frailty, were less likely to choose non-surgical intervention. The authors concluded that being able to identify women with PFD with risk factors of frailty, cognitive impairment, and functional disability may help predict the risk of complications before surgery and help encourage behavioral changes and provide the appropriate pre and post-operative care for each woman.

Silay et al., (2016) published a review on urinary incontinence (UI) in elderly women, relating its association with other geriatric conditions. Sixty-four females aged 65 and older were evaluated using the Turkish version of the International Consultation on Incontinence Questionnaire-Short Form (ICIQ-SF) to assess UI and quality of life. Activities of daily living (ADL) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADL) were used to evaluate functional status, and the Mini Mental State Examination was used for cognitive assessment.  The comorbidities, pharmaceuticals, falls, and body mass index (BMI) of patients were also recorded. Results showed the subjects’ rate of urinary incontinence was 40.6%, and 28.1% of the women had their quality of life impacted. There was a statistically significant association using logistic regression between UI and quality of life, functional status, and comorbidity. Sadly, 50% of patients thought UI was normal with aging, 34.6% had been embarrassed to tell anyone about it, and 15.3% said they did not know UI was something for which medical treatment could be given.

Understanding how to manage frailty, cognitive issues, and functional deficits of our elderly patients can positively impact treatment outcomes. We should always strive to educate our patients and be aware of conditions that may be affecting or even contributing to their PFD. The Geriatric Pelvic Floor Rehab course can enlighten therapists on a score of comorbidities and techniques for handling those patients who are not sporting a marathon finisher medal to their physical therapy visits!

Erekson, E. A., Fried, T. R., Martin, D. K., Rutherford, T. J., Strohbehn, K., & Bynum, J. P. W. (2015). Frailty, cognitive impairment, and functional disability in older women with female pelvic floor dysfunction. International Urogynecology Journal26(6), 823–830. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00192-014-2596-2
K. Silay, S. Akinci, A. Ulas, A. Yalcin, Y.S. Silay, M.B. Akinci, I. Dilek, B. Yalcin. (2016). Occult urinary incontinence in elderly women and its association with geriatric condition. European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences. 20(3): 447-451.

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