One of the most common and frustrating problems caregivers face when caring for loved ones with dementia is managing incontinence, which may affect your loved one’s urinary system and/or bowels. There may be multiple causes, including an overall decline in cognitive abilities, making the issue even more difficult to navigate. A thorough investigation of the root causes, as well as potential solutions, is often required.
Start with taking your loved one to their doctor for a medical exam, as there may be a specific medical cause for their incontinence, including conditions such as urinary tract infections and an enlarged prostate, as well as medications. The sudden onset of incontinence may be a clue that one of these medical factors may be the cause.
Helpful Caregiver Tips: Managing Incontinence
While you are obtaining a diagnosis (if possible), or if you are managing incontinence experienced by your loved one over a longer term, there are some steps you can take to make dealing with the problem easier. They include:
- Research and try out some of the different incontinence products available and see which work best for your loved one’s needs. For example, using a pad inside pull-up protective underwear for enhanced absorption is helpful for managing incontinence.
- Encourage your loved one to communicate when they need to use the toilet. Watch for non-verbal cues, too, like restlessness, making odd sounds or faces, pacing, sudden silence or hiding in corners.
- Try to make your loved one feel better about wearing protective measures. Don’t use the term “adult diapers”; call them “protective underwear,” instead. Make wearing protective underwear and/or pads a part of the daily dressing routine. Explain to your loved one that by wearing them, they are reducing your worry level and helping you care for them, since they won’t need to race to the bathroom.
- Choose clothing for your loved one that is easy to remove and clean.
- It may be useful to remind your loved one to use the bathroom on a regular schedule; perhaps every two hours, as well as first thing in the morning, after meals and before bed.
- Use liquid-proof rubber or disposable plastic pads and covers to protect beds, chairs, car seats, etc.
- Make sure your loved one has a clear path to the bathroom. Move any furniture out of the way and leave the bathroom door open. You can also visually enhance the bathroom with colored rugs, signs, lighting, etc.
- When leaving the house with your loved one, bring a change of protective underwear and a change of clothes, in case of an accident.
- Take note of when accidents happen, and plan accordingly.
- If an accident does occur, whether home or in public, be sure not to make your loved one feel ashamed. Reassure them that it’s ok, no matter what the situation may be.
- Keep a portable commode/urinal handy in case of nighttime emergencies.
- Items such as disposable gloves, flushable wipes and odor neutralizing spray make it easier to clean up when your loved one has soiled their clothing and needs to be changed.
- Keep a waste container near the toilet, to be used for disposal of soiled pads and protective underwear. In addition to the convenience, it reinforces to your loved one that they should not try to flush these items down the toilet.
- Make sure everything you need is handy in the bathroom: pads, protective underwear, powder, wipes, gloves, creams, lotions, etc.
- For severe accidents, it may be better to safely give your loved one a shower and then change them into fresh clothes.