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7 Tips to Reduce the Stress of Incontinence Caregiving

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October 2, 2014

As people age, their ability to control bladder and bowel functions can decrease for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, the reason is reversible (such as a urinary tract infection). Other times, the situation can’t be changed. If you’re providing care for a loved one with incontinence, you can take steps to minimize stress on both of you. These seven tips may help you cope.

1. Check with your loved one’s health care provider. For all new cases of bladder or bowel incontinence, get a physical examination to see if the cause is treatable. Even though your loved one may not have symptoms other than incontinence, there could be an underlying medical condition causing the problem. If medical care resolves the incontinence issue, go back to your health care provider if it crops up again.

2. Always be prepared. Pack a small tote bag with supplies such as incontinence briefs or pads, wipes and even a change of clothes in case an accident happens when you’re out and about together. Don’t allow your loved one to become a hermit because of incontinence issues.

3. Wear clothes that are easy to get on and off (or not). Slacks with an elastic waistband can be pulled down quickly, enabling your loved one to get on the toilet faster and possibly avoid an accident. And if you do have to help your loved one with cleanup, easy-off garments make it simpler for you to undress and re-dress them. On the other hand, people with dementia sometimes remove their clothes at inappropriate times and places. In that situation, you obviously would not want to dress your loved one in clothing that’s easy to remove.

4. Watch your loved one’s diet. Some foods make both bladder and bowel incontinence worse. Avoid consuming caffeine (coffee, tea, some sodas), chocolate, spicy foods and a lot of fresh or dried fruit.

5. Be empathetic. Losing control of bodily functions ranks among the most stressful health issues, so approach the situation with patience and tact to ease your loved one’s anxiety. You may find it helps reduce your own stress level as well.

6. Adopt a matter-of-fact approach. Care professionals use this technique to overcome a client’s shyness or embarrassment, and you can too. Use reassurance and a straightforward manner: “Oh, that’s too bad you had an accident, but don’t worry. It happens to a lot of people. Let me help you get cleaned up and into some dry, comfortable clothes.” If you find incontinence caregiving uncomfortable, you may have to fake this matter-of-fact attitude at first, and that’s OK. Pretty soon, you’ll find it comes very naturally.

7. Accept help. Let’s face it: many caregivers who are willing to provide all kinds of help to a loved one draw the line when it comes to dealing with incontinence. It’s perfectly all right for you to set this caregiving boundary. But your loved one still needs to maintain personal hygiene, so don’t hesitate to call for reinforcements. Search out non-medical personal care services, such as those provided by the Home Instead Senior Care® network. Home Instead® CAREGiversSM trained in personal care can help your loved one in a dignified and professional way.

Incontinence can be a challenging issue for even the most seasoned caregiver, and it’s a particularly common issue for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. For more tips specific to incontinence and memory care, visit the Dementia Support Network.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. October 6, 2015 at 1:20 am | Posted by June Nelson

    I cared for a senior that wore depends at night, when I put him to bed at 8:00 I put a pad in on top of the depend so his wife could check him before going to bed and change it without waking him up. I never pulled off the sticky paper on the bottom so she only had to pull it out and replace it with a dry one. That usually held him until morning


  2. October 6, 2015 at 12:44 am | Posted by Dixie

    Yes, I have! I get her dr involved and have home health care come in and talk to her when she doesn't listen. She got a bed sore from laying in bed and being wet and not cleaning herself so they took photos and showed them to her and me. I also told her if she doesn't start taking care of herself, because she said she doesn't need me to help her get cleaned up, I will put her in a nursing home. She got upset with me but I told my brothers and sisters who don't help out that is what will be done like it or not. It's hard, back breaking, emotionally draining work caring for a loved one. If she has medicare she should have home health care and her dr can order it for you. Good luck


  3. October 6, 2015 at 12:39 am | Posted by Dixie

    I care for my 95 year old mom who has health issues but is bright as one can be. She can't walk or move around well though and is incontinent. I have home health care come as I need them. I call my dr and he orders them to come by. I don't need them right now that often. I would call your husbands regular physician and tell them how you personally feel because where I live there are programs where someone can relieve you for a few hours a couple of times a week. I would also tell him you want another hospice service or new people because you don't trust these ones. Or call the hospice service yourself. Sorry you don't have any help and are going through this. I take a couple hours break once a week and leave my home with my husband to go run errands and litterly grab a bit to eat! You have to give yourself a break at least once a week. Good luck and God bless you.


  4. June 5, 2015 at 5:50 am | Posted by lori

    I take care of my 75 year old husband with full bone cancer and hospice takes advantage of me they teach me how to erragate his urine tube and tll me what a great job I do . they rome through my home like it belongs to them I also have a fully handi-capped son to take care of so cant leave the home. I have learned to hate hospice- I am worn out and shut in to much- I CHange his mess and bathe him and my son. and feel like I have no right to complain, so I yell at my husband who is a sweet and kind person, I feel very sad but look okay on the outside


  5. March 31, 2015 at 3:58 pm | Posted by Laura Reef

    Someone I love had this issue, and said she would never be able to leave the house because of it; until I gave her this two-question checklist which gave her the attitude to get out and enjoy life. Question 1: Is what I am sitting on wipeable, or absorbent? Question. 2: Is it mine? Because if it isn't, the answer to question 1 is not my problem...


    • November 19, 2015 at 12:22 am | Posted by Marla

      Sorry, but that is so rude. Talk about arrogant and self-entitled. Do you think you're so much better than everyone else that they should be expected to clean up your bodily waste? Get over yourself and if it isn't washable or absorbable, bring along some trash bags.


  6. January 13, 2015 at 6:07 pm | Posted by Cathy

    They can easily check his urine to see if he's got a UTI which would be a possible cause. At least for women, I also know there are continence clinics that can do tests to determine if it's a medical issue. I'm assuming there's such a type facility for men as well. Good luck! Hang in there! I know how hard it is!


  7. January 8, 2015 at 6:18 pm | Posted by Lorraine

    Hello, I live with my mother who was diagnosed with dementia about 2 years ago. My mother has always been a "queen of denial" but now that she has dementia, it's even more of a challenge! She also has lymphedema in her leg from a past cervical cancer surgery so I take care of her leg regularly. Here are the two "denial issues" I deal with. One, she has bowel incontinancy and she uses her wash cloths and towels to clean herself up. Since I am the one doing the laundry, this is not fun. When I try to bring up wearing incontinancy underware, she swears this is the first time this has happened and refuses to wear them. I have had this conversation with her numerous times and it is hard to maintain patience and trying to convince her this is not the first time. Anyone who has experienced this and has suggestions, I would be very grateful. The other "denial issue" is that since she has a bad leg from lymphedema, she can fall very easily. She is not to the point that she needs constant supervision but I did get her a home safety device to wear just in case she falls and cannot reach a phone for help.Well she won't wear that either. It is as if she cannot admit she is getting old and has problems. It is incredibly frustrating as I try to do the right things for her but I cannot force her. Any advice anyone??? Thanks!!!!!


    • January 13, 2015 at 6:46 pm | Posted by Deb

      Oh Lorraine! I feel for you. My dad is the same way, except he is so far in denial that he says he'll let me know when he needs help, and he clearly needs help! He won't let me care for him and that's why we moved in together and I have given up my peaceful, very little stressed, life! I'm following behind picking up the pieces, messes, him when he falls, etc. Idk.....we should friend each other. I am so stressed out as a single mom with a 16 year old and a full time job, and dad living with us as I moved him to Oklahoma to live with us so I could CARE for him. I could tell you some stories. They won't solve your problems, but maybe knowing there is another person dealing with the same stress in their life, can somehow help. (Misery loves company, right?) Take care. All this stress is ruining my health...and life.... :(


    • February 9, 2015 at 4:57 pm | Posted by Jen

      my mom is still independant, but when I talked to her about how SHE would feel if she knew her mom had fallen at home alone & didn't have anyone to check on her for hours - or even a day or 2! - she did verbalize understanding my point of view, at least.... I don't know if your mom is still able to understand that, but maybe it would help! good luck!


  8. October 19, 2014 at 7:46 am | Posted by Missy S

    What is the correlation between fruit and incontinence? My client eats a lot of fresh fruit, usually two fairly large servings a day. It includes pineapple, grapes and sometimes orange and apple. How do I help him understand the link and maybe cut back on the amount of fresh fruit daily?


    • November 15, 2014 at 5:42 am | Posted by Leticia S

      Fruits is one of the component that promotes body processes and ease up bowel movement. If a person cannot hold his/her bowel movement, then eating fruits & leafy vegetables may need to be taken in lesser quantity or proportions. Explain what fruits can do to our digestive system, and that adjusting his/her intake into a minimal might help with the incontinence issues. Furthermore, have a regular schedule of time for toiling routine. Be on the schedule. Don't wait until too late.


  9. October 17, 2014 at 8:30 pm | Posted by Kathleen Digrugilliers

    Thank you so much! I was not aware of certain drinks like coffee or tea being a problem- my client loves coffee! How do I get him to cut back on that ? He does not drink water like he should. He is 89 and he has been in this facility with a bladder problem from the start- How do we know that this incontinence problem is truly due to his Alzheimer's or something that could be corrected due to a medical problem? He is very much aware of his inability to control his bladder and it discourages him so much! We double up on the depends and we go out anyway- have been doing this for over a year. When Alzheimer's and age are already an issue, is it reasonable to even check to see if the bladder issue is a medical one? I think my client would want to know even now - just wondering - Thanks again- wonderful article and great advice. :-) Kathleen


  10. October 14, 2014 at 10:52 pm | Posted by Isikeli

    My dad (83 years) is sick and has been partially paralyzed from his knee down.He copped this sickness on 15/9/2014. He cannot control his limbs and the sickness is spreading to other parts of his body. He is supported when he wants to turn to either side when he is lying down and cannot sit up on his down when lying on bed. When sitting, he has to hold on to something otherwise he would collapse. What can be done?


    • October 30, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Posted by Rossi Iliev

      Did you check your father for Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus? My husband has this and most of the symptoms are the same, even he could walk with help or use a wheelchair. His balance is bad and he can't sit normally without something behind his back.


  11. October 12, 2014 at 2:56 pm | Posted by Esther Brana

    I have worked for Home Instead Senior Care for 3years.It has been a blessing to me, to be able to prepare myself for what is expected for the years ahead of me,how to deal and work,and be able to accept the outcome of dementia.Making a difference in someone's life is indeed a reward for the future.


  12. October 9, 2014 at 10:41 pm | Posted by ClaireMW

    Don't forget to keep a supply of disposable gloves with you and your loved one at all times, as well as a plastic bag for laundry AND a paper bag lined with newspaper for garbage. The newsprint absorbs smells and can be tossed into land-fills without ecological havoc.


    • February 3, 2015 at 8:37 pm | Posted by Ms Linda

      Thanks for the tip about newspapers inside the disposal bag. I knew about the others.


  13. October 9, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Posted by lisa lacelle

    One good way is that most people have a time schedule to void .Another way to know there is a little behaviour before. thanks Lisa


  14. October 8, 2014 at 4:46 pm | Posted by Paula

    Are there any discount/ free incontinence supply offers under Medicare?


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