Sharon’s 82-year old mother has always been an independent woman. After raising four children and losing a husband to cancer, she has lived on her own for nearly a decade. Over the past year, however, Emma has begun to require more assistance from her daughter with everything from preparing meals to keeping up the house.
Recently Sharon has become concerned because her mother is apprehensive about leaving the house for errands or a lunch date. After a long talk, Emma admitted that she has begun to have trouble controlling her bladder and she is embarrassed and worried about the possibility of an accident in public. While Sharon understands her mother’s worry, she also understands that incontinence is a common issue for seniors and is determined to find information and practical ideas and support for her mother.
According to the National Association for Continence, nearly 1 in 5 adults over age 40 suffers with some sort of urinary incontinence. Meanwhile, over 50% of nursing home residents suffer from incontinence, ranging from mild leaking of urine to a complete inability to control their bladder or bowels. Incontinence can be an uncomfortable condition for family caregivers and their elderly loved ones to address.
To help facilitate the discussion, FCA has developed its Caregiver College Video Series (now viewable at our CAREGIVER.ORG YouTube Channel). The series speaks directly to the family caregiver on activities of daily living (ADLs), which can pose some difficulty when caring for someone with waning mental or physical abilities. It includes a helpful chapter on Toileting & Incontinence.
Depending on your relationship with a senior and their condition, it may be embarrassing for them to even admit that they are experiencing incontinence. Conversely, for seniors suffering incontinence associated with Alzheimer’s, there may be frustration and anger towards family caregivers who are simply trying to help with continence. Regardless of the extent of your loved one’s incontinence, there are a few steps that may help provide relief for the both of you:
1. Talk to a doctor: In many cases, incontinence may be a treatable condition, and it’s important to figure out whether or not the loss of bladder or bowel control may be due to an underlying medical condition or stress. After a cause has been determined, a primary care physician or urologist may be able to prescribe treatments that range from behavioral therapy to medication.
2. Encourage your loved one to follow through with treatment recommendations: Incontinence care, such as behavioral therapy, may require a senior to focus on altering their habits by instituting scheduled bathroom breaks, pelvic floor exercises, and managing fluid intake. All of this change may be overwhelming for seniors to accept, and time-consuming for family caregivers to help manage. Working with your loved one’s behavioral therapist, any other family caregivers, or in-home care providers to coordinate incontinence treatment can help ensure that therapy exercises, diet, and medication are all managed as a team. For more severe cases that have not been helped with other treatment options, physicians may recommend surgical procedures for seniors and their caregivers to consider.
3. Be aware of dietary changes: Diet may have an impact on senior incontinence, as certain foods and substances have been found to irritate the bladder. Family caregivers may try serving meals and beverages high in fiber and nutrients, while avoiding caffeine, alcohol, carbonated drinks, citrus fruits, and artificial sweeteners. Speaking with your loved oneʼs doctor about dietary irritants for incontinence, and encouraging modest changes such as switching to decaf coffee, may be simple solutions to help reduce the occurrence of incontinence.
4. Encourage the use of protective undergarments: It’s not difficult to understand why some seniors are opposed to wearing protective undergarments, which can be bulky and potentially demeaning. To help your mom or dad accept the idea, avoid referring to any protection as a “diaper,” which no one truly wants to wear, and check out what’s available on today’s market. With new designs, protective undergarments and pads can be comfortable, hide odor, wick moisture, and provide a safety net for seniors. In the event that your loved one is suffering from complete incontinence, be sure to change undergarments as soon as possible after soiling, cleaning and drying thoroughly before replacing the garment. Using absorbent, disposable pads can also be a relief for seniors suffering any type of incontinence to stay dry during the night. Although incontinence is a common condition among seniors, it can cause embarrassment and frustration for seniors and family caregivers alike. Working as a team with doctors, providers (like home care agencies), and seniors can help family caregivers help their loved ones find relief from incontinence. While not all instances of incontinence can be cured, there may be hope and help to reduce and relieve those unexpected urges to go.