A study is to take place to test whether a type of physiotherapy could reduce the incidence of urinary incontinence in Britain's care homes.
Researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University want to investigate the efficacy of delivering a mild electrical stimulation to the leg that should also affect the bladder.
Transcutaneous tibial nerve stimulation (TPTNS) involves placing two surface electrodes on the patient's ankle and using a small electrical stimulator to send a pulse to the nerve near the ankle.
This is because nerves that control the bladder are also connected to the tibial nerve at the back of the lower leg. By stimulating this nerve through the skin, it is hoped the bladder should also be stimulated too.
The treatment is akin to using a TENS machine for pain such as that associated with labour.
Some 500 people living in care homes who have urinary incontinence are to be involved in the study, with each treatment lasting half an hour for a total of 12 over six weeks.
The full trial will last three years and the researchers hope to see patients experiencing less sudden urgency to rush to the toilet and an increase in the volume of urine their bladders are able to hold.
Lead study coordinator Professor Jo Booth said: "Small, early studies have all indicated that TPTNS is safe and acceptable and that it can help bladder problems. However, we need better quality evidence that it works before we can recommend that it is used for everyday treatment.
"We will also explore with the care home staff the best ways to give this TPTNS treatment in a care home and keep it going in the long term."
The study will be funded by The National Institute for Health Research.
NHS estimates suggest that between three and six million people in the UK have some degree of urinary incontinence. However, this rises to 70 per cent of older people who live in nursing or residential care homes, which can lead to significant reductions in quality of life.
Currently, patients are provided with absorbent pads or pelvic floor exercises to try and strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor, but it may be that TPTNS offers a way of treating the cause of the problem as opposed to the symptoms.
Written by Mathew Horton
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