Incontinence in Your Elders

Jasmine Schmidt Health Guide
  • Sixteen million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia that gradually destroys a person’s memory and independence. As November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month I thought this would be as good a time as any to discuss the incontinence and inappropriate voiding that so often accompanies Alzheimer’s.

    Although not everyone living with Alzheimer’s will experience incontinence, most will. In some cases, individuals with Alzheimer’s may display “inappropriate voiding.” That is, they may forget where the restroom is, miss the toilet, or urinate in a plant stand or behind a curtain. Some individuals may experience leakage when unable to remove clothing quickly enough. In these cases, the bladder itself is usually working fine, so we call this inappropriate voiding rather than incontinence.
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    These issues can sometimes be dealt with by leaving the bathroom door open and the light on at all times so it is easier to locate; keeping the pathway to the bathroom clear; and using pants with an elastic waistband instead of zippers and buttons.

    Whatever form the incontinence takes on, and whatever the causes, it is often an embarrassing situation for both the individual with Alzheimer’s, and also for their caretaker. We are all born incontinent, and as children we are taught that controlling our bladder and bowel functions makes us “good” girls and boys. Many children are punished or ridiculed when they fail to become continent as quickly as their parent might like. Given this background, it makes sense that we feel a bit uneasy about losing that ability to control bladder and bowel function.

    Often caregivers resist “helping” a person struggling with incontinence because they don’t want to invade personal space or take away the individual’s dignity. It can be uncomfortable assisting someone to the toilet the first few times, but shortly you’ll realize that for the person with incontinence, getting assistance preserves dignity much more so than urinating on one’s self.

    Once again, as with many situations involving incontinence, there aren’t a lot of hard and fast answers I can provide. However, I do advise that a light-hearted attitude can go a long way towards a fun and happy future together. Don’t be afraid to use humor. This isn’t a matter of life and death; it’s a matter of pee and poop! Also, keep in mind that by learning to care for your loved one’s incontinence you may be buying yourself precious years of memories together.

    Incontinence is all too often a reason for institutionalization. If you’re able to get over the embarrassment and handle the pee and poop on your own, you may be able to defer institutionalization for many more years. Alzheimer’s can be devastating for not only the individual with the disease, but also for their friends, family, and caregivers. By removing the stigma associated with incontinence, we can help tremendously to raise the quality of life for our loved ones.

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Published On: November 06, 2006