Caring for a Loved One with Incontinence
If you’re a caregiver, you are not alone. The Canadian Caregiver Coalition estimates that there are around 4-5 million people providing regular care to a family member in Canada. Although every caregiver’s experience is unique; one of the most common conditions a caregiver has to deal with is also one of the least talked about: incontinence.
Incontinence can be experienced in many different ways and as a result of many different conditions. Mild incontinence is very common, especially in women, and typically requires only a minor adjustment in lifestyle. Severe incontinence may occur in a person with a physical disability such as quadriplegia or paraplegia, or a neurological condition such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. In these cases, a caregiver is often required to take on a more active role in attending to bathroom needs.
Regardless of the severity or cause of your loved one’s incontinence, it’s a topic that can be difficult to address, and dealing with it is often every bit as stressful for the caregiver as for the care recipient. This resource will provide you with advice for managing incontinence as a caregiver, and for taking proper care of yourself in the process.
Talking to Your Loved One about Incontinence
People don’t generally like to talk about what goes on in the bathroom. Incontinence is a sensitive topic that is going to be hard to bring up with your loved one. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away, however, so it’s best to confront the issue in an informed way.
If you’re caring for someone who is generally independent, but who occasionally has accidents due to stress or urge incontinence, the most important thing is to address the issue in a straightforward but understanding way. Reduce stress by communicating that incontinence is a very common condition experienced by 1 out of 4 women and 1 out of 8 men. Explain that with the right products and lifestyle changes, he or she will be able to continue going about day-to-day life without fear of embarrassment.
If you’re caring for someone with a severe mental or physical limitation, it will usually require more than just a conversation. Accidents are a common occurrence when someone starts to experience dementia or neurological degeneration, and they can cause a lot of distress. Make sure to deal with any accidents quickly and calmly, and then talk to your loved about finding a discreet product to help manage the situation. If forgetfulness is part of the issue, consider reminding him or her to use the bathroom throughout the day, and start establishing a routine for bathroom visits and changings.
Family members who are fully or partially disabled will likely require help using the toilet, which will be difficult for both parties to get used to at first. Work together on a plan and listen to one another’s suggestions and concerns. Eventually, you’ll find a solution that suits you both and the embarrassment will disappear. Choosing the right incontinence products (see below) can go a long way in preventing leakage and ensuring that your loved one’s clothing and dignity are preserved.
Choosing the Right Incontinence Products
There are a number of products available for people experiencing incontinence. The right product for your loved one will depend on the nature of his or her condition.
Pads and liners are appropriate for people who are only starting to face these issues or whose incontinence is relatively mild in nature. These products are available for day and night use and allow the user to discreetly manage the problem without major embarrassment. Caregivers often prefer this product as well because it makes for easy changing (i.e. you can dispose of the pad without having to replace the entire garment).
TENA is one of the leading manufacturers of pads for people who face more severe incontinence issues than regular drug-store brands are able to provide for. They offer products specifically tailored for both women and men. It is important to make sure that your loved one uses snug-fitting underwear so that the pad stays securely in place. Washable mesh comfort pants can be worn with these products to ensure that they fit appropriately.
Pull-on underwear products such as TENA Women Moderate Absorbency Underwear and TENA Men Underwear Super Plus are more suited for users with moderate to heavy bladder weakness. Designed to look and feel like everyday underwear, these products provide both discretion and protection for those who are incontinent but are still able to manage their own hygiene. Caregivers may also choose to use this product with a person who is able to weight-bear while changing.
Diaper-style briefs, while often viewed as a last-resort option, are likely going to be necessary for people who are fully incontinent and completely dependent on a caregiver for personal care. Your loved one may be resistant to the idea of using a diaper because it is perceived to lack dignity, but help him or her understand that avoiding the embarrassment of an accident is well worth the initial disconcertion.
Diapers offer better absorbency and fit than underwear-style products due to their adjustability. If you find that the diaper is not absorbing as it should, look for a product that has gathered channels inside the leg areas to help it fit more closely. If you still feel there’s not enough capacity, you can use a booster pad with flow-through capabilities to increase the absorbency of the incontinence brief. Tranquility is a company known for offering high absorbency booster pads and diapers in a variety of sizes, including extra-small for frail elderly people and children with special needs.
Apart from pads and briefs, several other products can be useful when caring for a person with incontinence issues:
Underpads like those offered by TENA or KCI are available in various sizes to fit over chairs, wheelchairs, or beds. They are designed to protect during changings or in the event of an accident, and come in both disposable and washable varieties.
Creams and cleansers like TENA’s Skin-Caring Wash Cream help to prevent skin irritations and sores that can be caused by urinary incontinence. Using a proper cream will help create a barrier to stop the void from reaching the skin and causing uncomfortable skin reactions.
Wipes are specially designed washcloths to assist with personal care. They are available scented and unscented and are flushable for easy disposal.
Tips for Caregivers
- Always be prepared.When leaving the house with your loved one, carry extra incontinence products with you and be sure to keep a supply handy in the trunk of your car. Make sure your destination has easily accessible bathrooms before you arrive.
- Establish a routine.Creating and sticking to a regular bathroom routine can help you and your loved one get into the habit, while also reducing accidents.
- Keep track with a bladder diary.A bladder diary can be useful in the early stages of incontinence for understanding when accidents occur and what might be exacerbating them (e.g. bladder-irritating fluids like coffee or alcohol). There’s a great one available on the TENA website here.
- Take time for yourself.Caring for someone can often feel like a full-time job, so it’s important to take proper care of yourself too. Take up an enjoyable hobby or activity and be sure to get out of the house for a few hours every week (provided you have arranged for appropriate home care during your absence).
- Connect with a support group.If the stress of being a caregiver is starting to wear you down, consider joining a caregiver support group. A list of caregiving associations can be found on the Canadian Caregiver Coalition website.
No one likes to talk about incontinence, but for many caregivers and care recipients it’s a daily reality. The good news is that with the right frame of mind and the right products, dealing with your family member’s incontinence doesn’t have to be anything more than a small part of your daily life. Plan ahead, establish a routine, and stock up on the right products. You’ll find that caregiving can be an extremely rewarding experience that will bring you and your loved one closer.