Helping A Loved One Find Control

Nancy Muller Health Pro
  • At the beginning of a new year, one often resolves to tackle new goals or longstanding objectives that have received insufficient attention in past months or even years. But how often do we think about the needs of others rather than our own selfish wish lists at this time of year?


    The beginning of a new year marks an opportunity to help an older family member or special friend to address a growing or persistent problem with bladder or even bowel control. Especially if a relative is residing in assisted living or remotely, it's easy to put those embarrassing family gatherings out of mind for another year and avoid the confrontation. In 2010, consider doing the alternative. 

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    The first step in working with older persons with incontinence is to understand how their thinking may influence their behavior. Many older people think that there are no treatment options and believe they "just have to live with it." In fact, research shows that one third of all adults believe that bladder control problems are a natural part of aging and something to simply accept. Oftentimes, medication for other problems can compromise a person's ability to manage gas, cause one to urinate frequently, or even trigger diarrhea or constipation.  If they are living in an assisted living community, residents may avoid reporting such symptoms to the campus nurse or supervisor for fear it will affect how they are socially accepted. 


    Sometimes the facility may be part of the problem. It may practice a "don't ask - don't tell" policy and leave the problem in the hands of the resident. In some cases, supervisors never hear about the problem because the first line caregivers and other staff who assist with cleaning rooms or bathing and dressing residents are sworn to secrecy by the residents. 


    Getting the older person in these circumstances to acknowledge the problem is the first step but often the most difficult one for family members or friends who take the initiative to get involved. This is true, particularly for people living in a continuing care retirement community, as residents may fear being transferred to another, more confining location on the campus or being charged more for monthly services.  Prospective residents of adult homes or assisted living facilities may have hidden the condition from family members and their own doctor because of embarrassment or fear they will be scolded or criticized. Or they may fear they will be rejected from applying or forced directly into a nursing facility and lose all their independence and freedoms.


    One on one discussions are the best way to open this dialogue, once a history of the problem has been established with repeated evidence of soiled clothing, isolation, excessive use of colognes or sprays to mask odors, and excessive linen and clothing changes.  Ask simple questions about their habits, such as whether difficulty is encountered making it to the bathroom "in time" or whether they frequency get up more than once a night to urinate. 


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    Click for further insights on incontinence in the elderly.You might want to request a copy of NAFC's Caregiver's Desk Reference: A Comprehensive Guide to Quality Continence Care.


    Once the dialogue is open, it's much easier to reach agreement on getting help from a nurse practitioner or doctor especially knowledgeable about geriatric urinary and bowel health.  Make the appointment yourself. Accompany them on the appointment. Follow-up to help your older relative or friend adhere to the health provider's advice and/or prescriptions.  Be part of the solution. Be part of the care. Make a difference in someone else's life you care about and love.


    Nancy Muller

    Executive Director

    National Association For Continence

Published On: February 04, 2010