Caring For Someone With Incontinence

caring for someone with incontinence

Incontinence is a common manifestation of aging, often hastened by underlying medical conditions or medication side effects. Research shows that as many as 50% of adults 65 years old and older experience some form of incontinence, ranging from mild urine leakage to complete loss of bladder or bowels.

Lack of bladder or bowel control can negatively affect anyone’s life. The embarrassment and shame can cause seniors to withdraw from their social life and retreat into the home, which leads to loneliness, depression, and anxiety. 

9 Professional Tips For Helping Someone With Incontinence

Fortunately, a solid incontinence care plan changes everything. The combination of honest conversation and a step-by-step plan means adults with incontinence can confidently embrace their lives.

Here are nine professional incontinence care tips to support your loved one.

Schedule an appointment with the doctor

Yes, incontinence is indeed a “normal” part of aging for many. However, that doesn’t mean you should accept it without question. Some factors increase the chances of becoming incontinent and may be addressed by your physician. Examples include:

  • Urinary tract infections (which are commonly asymptomatic in seniors. This should be the first line of investigation)
  • Weak bladder/pelvic floor muscles (see #3)
  • Chronic coughing or sneezing
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Medication side effects (medications linked to incontinence include some blood pressure medicines, diuretics, and sleeping pills)

Addressing these issues with the professional facilitation of a physician eases the conversation. While it may not eliminate episodes, it can minimize their frequency or severity. Your physician should look at your medical history and current prescriptions and then make recommendations to support the way forward.

Have an honest conversation (or two, or three)

The loss of bladder/bowel control can feel like the final straw for many aging adults because they see their senior years as losing control of everything. And, of course, the stigma of “embarrassment” they feel makes it tempting to try to hide the issue rather than face it head-on. Our recommendation is to find ways to bring the subject up gently. Also, keep a very pragmatic, calm, and businesslike tone about it. This is something that happens to everyone at one point or another. If you suspect resistance, start by bringing it up and letting it go. For example, “I want to mention a sensitive topic, and then you can just think about it if you don’t want to talk about it now. Are you open to that?” 

If they are open, mention that you want to talk about incontinence care sometime in the next week or two, and ask them to let you know a good time to chat? For some, the conversation will be immediate. It may take a while for others, and you may need to follow up. Then, slowly but surely, you can create a plan together. 

Support abdominal/pelvic/bladder strength

Pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause are three reasons women are more prone to urinary incontinence. Even so, hormonal changes and a decline in physical strength also play a part. The weaker the abdominal, pelvic, and bladder muscles are, the more likely people are to leak or have trouble “holding it” when they need to go, and there isn’t a bathroom nearby. 

Spend a little time each day on exercises that strengthen the core muscles and pelvic floor. We also recommend joining a senior yoga or pilates class and letting the instructor know you’d like to focus on pelvic floor strength. Doing daily kegel exercises strengthens pelvic muscles and may improve bladder control in just three to six weeks. Visit WebMD’s post, Kegel Exercises for Pelvic Muscles, for instructions.

Rethink how you view incontinence support

We admit the term “adult diapers” is off-putting. No wonder seniors are offended. The good news is that pads and underwear designed for incontinence have come a long way in the past couple of decades. They are more streamlined and comfortable than ever. Come up with a nickname together or just call them what they are “underwear.” 

And, if it’s embarrassing to buy them at the store, purchase them online. Most online retailers have regular shipping options, so the pads, underwear, or overnight protection options are delivered at regular intervals right to your door.

Evaluate the diet and reduce foods/ingredients that increase incontinence

Some foods make seniors more prone to incontinence, so reducing their intake can help. These include:

  • Caffeine (caffeinated coffee and teas)
  • Alcohol
  • Spicy foods
  • Chocolate
  • Sugars and artificial sweeteners
  • Tomato products
  • Some acidic fruits and fruit juices

Try a week or two of cutting these ingredients out. Switch from caffeinated to decaf options. See if it makes a difference. A healthy senior diet goes a long way towards supporting a range of medical conditions.

Protect the skin

Even with pads and underwear designed for incontinence, the skin can stay moister than usual and become irritated. Consider using products designed to provide a skin-moisture barrier. Creams or ointments that contain zinc oxide, lanolin, or petrolatum form a protective barrier on the skin. Some skincare products, often in the form of a spray or a towelette, create a clear, protective film over the skin. These are typically available on the same shelves as pads and incontinence underwear. Examples include Calmoseptine, A&D Ointment, Calazime, Lantiseptic, Z-Gaurd, and Aquaphor.

A bathroom schedule can help someone with incontinence

Timeliness is everything when it comes to incontinence. You want to get to the bathroom before the urge becomes so strong that the nerves and muscles give way. Create a bathroom schedule and stick to it. Start by visiting the bathroom every hour and then every two hours and see what makes the most sense. Once there’s a regular routine, people with incontinence often notice their stress and anxiety around the issue dissipates. Technology can help with this so consider setting a reminder on a phone or tablet to support the cause.

Keep up on the laundry and linens

Noticing strong odors related to incontinence is one of the common signs seniors need more support to live independently. Above and beyond the concerns around untended incontinence, they deserve to have access to clean clothes, linens, and towels on a daily basis. If laundry has become too much of a chore and clothes aren’t clean, it contributes to seniors’ desire to recluse rather than remain socially engaged.

This might be a good time to hire a caregiver who comes in once or twice a week to do the laundry, change the linens, and provide light housekeeping duties. It also serves as a regular wellness check and the caregiver can provide family members with an objective view of how things are going and any changes or signs your loved one needs more help.

Give yourself a break

If you’re a spouse or family caregiver, incontinence is not an easy thing to handle on a daily basis. We mentioned above that, “loss of bladder/bowel control can feel like the final straw for many aging adults.” It can be the final straw for their family caregivers, too. That is especially true if incontinence care requires assisting a chair- or bed bound senior

Let Us Help

Full-time caregiving without help from others is exhausting and leads to fatigue and burnout. If you find yourself getting stressed, resentful, angry, or overwhelmed, it’s time to give yourself a break. Take advantage of professional respite care services to recharge your battery. Could you use support navigating incontinence care for a loved one? Schedule an assessment with HomeAide Home Care. We have decades of experience supporting Bay Area seniors and their families.

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