Incontinence can be an embarrassing problem for an elder, thus making coping with it emotional and sometimes a battlefield between generations. Some elders deny their incontinence and refuse to wear briefs to protect their clothing and furniture from accidents. This often leads to very frustrated adult children who can’t understand why their parent is so stubborn on this issue.
Shaming and arguing rarely work. But some education about how to handle incontinence can go a long way toward helping your loved one manage incontinence.
- Be compassionate. Incontinence is just one more loss that elders may associate with aging, and it can take time for acceptance to cut through the denial. Unless Alzheimer’s or another dementia is present, encourage your loved one to become educated on this fairly common problem.
- Whether or not dementia is present, it makes sense to keep clothing simple. The urge to urinate can be followed immediately by the action, so the quicker the clothing comes off the better.
- Look for reasons for the incontinence. Some may be reversible. A urinary tract infection (UTI) or medication side effects can cause incontinence, so ask the doctor to consider these issues. Dementia, of course, is another issue. The incontinence is likely permanent and the person may have no understanding of how to help make it easier to cope with. However, stress or fear can make matters worse, so keeping your elder calm may help lower the rate of accidents.
- One sign of Alzheimer’s disease can be a significant weakening of the sense of smell. If the elder has a diminished sense of smell of the urine, he or she may be less likely to want to change clothing, so again, avoiding accidents is the best route when possible.
- One reason good nursing homes try to keep residents out of briefs for as long as possible is to limit the potential for skin breakdown. Adult urine is strong and can cause skin problems. If your loved one must wear briefs all of the time, he or she should be watched carefully and changed when wet or soiled to prevent skin conditions.
- Establish a regular schedule for toileting. Regular trips to the bathroom can help the person stay dry and in some cases train their body to hold urine longer.
- Limit intake of fluids near bedtime to help the person go longer without wetting the brief.
- See if any foods or beverages tend to cause problems. Some people react to acids or other components of some foods in a way that makes them need to urinate more often.
- If a person with Alzheimer’s or other dementia is totally uncontrollable, taking off the brief, urinating anywhere and other behaviors that aren’t compatible with home care, it may be that the person is in a stage of dementia better handled by a good nursing home where they are equipped for these issues.
Remember that incontinence, like most other health problems, can vary with the individual and the root cause. So, try to remain calm, have compassion, check with the doctor and ask for advice. Incontinence is difficult but it can generally be treated or controlled in such a way that it shouldn’t be an embarrassment issue for anyone.