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Does improved functional performance help to reduce urinary incontinence in institutionalized older women? a multicenter randomized clinical trial

Erwin CPM Tak12*, Ariëtte van Hespen1, Paula van Dommelen1 and Marijke Hopman-Rock123

Author affiliations

1 TNO Expertise center Life Style, P.O. Box 2215, Leiden, 2301 CE, The Netherlands

2 Body@Work, Research Center Physical Activity, Work and Health, TNO-VU, University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

3 Department of Public and Occupational Health/EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research (EMGO+), VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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Citation and License

BMC Geriatrics 2012, 12:51  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-12-51

Published: 6 September 2012



Urinary incontinence (UI) is a major problem in older women. Management is usually restricted to dealing with the consequences instead of treating underlying causes such as bladder dysfunction or reduced mobility.

The aim of this multicenter randomized controlled trial was to compare a group-based behavioral exercise program to prevent or reduce UI, with usual care. The exercise program aimed to improve functional performance of pelvic floor muscle (PFM), bladder and physical performance of women living in homes for the elderly.


Twenty participating Dutch homes were matched and randomized into intervention or control homes using a random number generator. Homes recruited 6–10 older women, with or without UI, with sufficient cognitive and physical function to participate in the program comprising behavioral aspects of continence and physical exercises to improve PFM, bladder and physical performance. The program consisted of a weekly group training session and homework exercises and ran for 6 months during which time the control group participants received care as usual. Primary outcome measures after 6 months were presence or absence of UI, frequency of episodes (measured by participants and caregivers (not blinded) using a 3-day bladder diary) and the Physical Performance Test (blinded). Linear and logistic regression analysis based on the Intention to Treat (ITT) principle using an imputed data set and per protocol analysis including all participants who completed the study and intervention (minimal attendance of 14 sessions).


102 participants were allocated to the program and 90 to care as usual. ITT analysis (n = 85 intervention, n = 70 control) showed improvement of physical performance (intervention +8%; control −7%) and no differences on other primary and secondary outcome measures. Per protocol analysis (n = 51 intervention, n = 60 control) showed a reduction of participants with UI (intervention −40%; control −28%) and in frequency of episodes (intervention −51%; control −42%) in both groups; improvement of physical performance (intervention + 13%; control −4%) was related to participation in the exercise program.


This study shows that improving physical performance is feasible in institutionalized older women by exercise. Observed reductions in UI were not related to the intervention. [Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN63368283]