October 2, 2014
Bladder and bowel incontinence can be an embarrassing nuisance for seniors and their family caregivers. And while you may know incontinence can lead to complications like skin sores and urinary tract infections, your clients may not have this knowledge. Help your clients with suggestions to avoid incontinence complications and help maintain their health and dignity with these three tips.
Complication: Skin sores
When skin remains soggy due to soaking in urine or feces, the tissue can break down and become a skin sore. As you may know, this is especially true for incontinent seniors with limited mobility. And skin sores not only are painful, they can lead to dangerous infections.
Tip: Help spare your seniors from incontinence-related skin sores by teaching their family caregivers advanced techniques for staying dry. Suggest applying a barrier ointment -- like petroleum jelly -- to skin exposed to urine or feces on a frequent basis. Allow skin to air dry when possible. Tell them about using inexpensive cornstarch to powder damp areas. Remind your clients of the importance of changing incontinence briefs immediately upon wetting or soiling. Seniors with dementia may want to dry and re-use incontinence briefs. If you or a family caregiver notice this happening, it may indicate the senior needs more care and supervision.
Complication: Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Your clients may not associate incontinence with an increased risk for UTIs. As a senior caregiving professional, though, you know people with urinary incontinence may retain urine in their bladder after they void, which can promote bacterial growth. And, of course, an episode of bowel incontinence can transfer bacteria from fecal matter to the urethra, especially in women.
Tip: Emphasize genital cleanliness to your seniors and their caregivers. Thorough cleaning after a bout of bowel incontinence can be time-consuming, but it can help avoid a UTI later. When possible, demonstrate appropriate cleaning techniques to family caregivers so they understand what to do. If family members find the idea of cleaning their loved one’s private parts off-putting, recommend an option like non-medical, in-home personal care services.
Complication: Social isolation due to unpleasant personal odors
Incontinence is linked to depression, and why wouldn’t it be? Not only can it be depressing to lose control of bodily functions, but this loss may contribute to social isolation which can also trigger depressive episodes. Seniors with incontinence may withdraw from social interactions because they’re afraid they may experience an embarrassing accident in public due to not being able to get to a bathroom in time. Or they may feel self-conscious about the foul odors that can accompany chronic bladder or bowel incontinence.
Tip: Recommend using small amounts of body spray or another odor-masker like essential oils. Spritzing a little deodorant spray or dribbling a few drops of a citrus essential oil on clothing can mask incontinence odors. (A few drops in a facemask can make the cleanup process more pleasant for you or the family caregiver, also!) Chewing mint gum or strongly scented breath mints also can cover urine odor. In the home, use hypoallergenic air fresheners to banish bathroom smells from the environment and make it pleasant to invite guests to visit.
As a senior caregiving professional, you can play a crucial role in helping your clients maintain their health and dignity when dealing with incontinence. Sharing the practical tips outlined above can help seniors overcome the physical and emotional complications of this vexing condition.
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