How Down Syndrome Affects Incontinence
Your Health & Wellbeing

How Down Syndrome Affects Incontinence

by Gary Sattin on Oct 03, 2022

Down syndrome, a genetic disorder called trisomy-21, results from an extra chromosome that impacts people’s appearance, cognitive function, and other bodily processes. Some defining physical features include upward slanting eyes, small ears, and a flattened face and nose bridge. Because Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal abnormality, it’s likely you know or have met someone with this these features. People with this difference also have mild to moderately impaired cognitive ability, speaking and other developmental delays, and gastrointestinal and urinary complications. These latter complications affects their urinary and bowel continence, closely linking their genetic difference with their ability to void properly. To learn more about how Down syndrome affects incontinence, read our brief guide.

How Down Syndrome Affects Bathrooming

Cognitive-Behavioral Factors

First, because of cognitive impairments and comorbidity with autism spectrum disorder, it takes children with Down syndrome longer to acquire bathrooming habits. Many parents utilize a reward system for potty training, which kids with Down syndrome may not respond to as readily because they struggle to focus and plan, both elements of executive functioning.

Also, if they live with autism as well, those with Down syndrome experience communication deficiencies and routine rigidity. Their inability to verbally communicate their need to urinate could result in miscommunications between child and parent and accidents.

Urinary Retention

Also, people with Down syndrome experience muscular differences that affect urinary function. Because their muscles tend to be weak, they cannot adequately contract their bladder to release urine. As a result, Down syndrome affects incontinence by leading to urine retention and potential bladder infections that worsen incontinence symptoms.

Gastrointestinal Abnormalities

Finally, several gastrointestinal abnormalities inhibit bathrooming and contribute to bowel incontinence or constipation. Narrowed bowels, or Hirschsprung disease, prevents regularity, as does genetics-based obstruction. Overall, 77 percent of people with Down syndrome have gastrointestinal differences that affect comfort and function.

Addressing Incontinence

While the factors relating incontinence to Down syndrome are unavoidable, it’s entirely possible for those with each to live happy, healthy lives, focusing on their goals rather than their symptoms. Here are some tools to accomplish this.

Urinary and Bowel Function Assessments

First, it’s important parents of kids with Down syndrome consult with their doctor about a continence assessment if there is some indication of bathrooming issues. While it’s true those with Down syndrome progress through developmental checkpoints later, parents shouldn’t automatically chalk up bathroom delays to lower cognitive function. If your pediatrician determines an assessment is helpful, then you may end up identifying an existing physical abnormality that affects urinary or bowel function. This can lead to specific treatments in the future.

Use Incontinence Pads

While there is an abundance of hope for people with Down syndrome who experience incontinence, they may need to manage their urinary symptoms for the time being with incontinence pads. When in use, protective undergarments give caregivers peace of mind and/or boosts the confidence of someone with Down syndrome. Remember—having a urinary accident because of an executive functioning or structural problem is embarrassing and often limits the activities someone will participate in. Using incontinence products prevents these issues, helps people retain their sense of adventure, and improves their quality of life.

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