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7 Tips to Reduce the Stress of Incontinence Caregiving

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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® 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.

Last revised: October 2, 2014

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. March 25, 2021 at 10:11 pm | Posted by Alena Flury

    I agree with you


  2. December 29, 2020 at 1:38 am | Posted by Annette White

    My mom is 79 and I am living with her taken care of her she refuses to wear pull up and everyday pees on the the. Floor also has bowel problems as far as I know she does not have any Alzheimer's or any other reason except her pride. This is causing me so much stress to was rugs and clean pee and sheets almost every day. I have begged her to wear pads or pull ups to please help me. Someone please help me how to deal with this.


    • March 30, 2021 at 5:38 am | Posted by Rosie

      Poor you! This must be a tremendous pressure for you. Does your mother have any idea of how distressed you are over this? It’s not a weakness to admit that you’re struggling and maybe, if you tell her honestly, she’ll understand. Saving her pride is important, but saving your own sanity matters just as much!


  3. September 9, 2020 at 7:11 am | Posted by Lynn M.

    My husband is now in a later stage of Parkinson’s disease and has urinary incontinence issues. Nights are hell. He is up anywhere from three to seven times to urinate and most times needs help to get out of bed as he is very unsteady and weak. He has both a urinal and a commode close by and wears pull-ups constantly, but I still spend a lot of time cleaning up the floor, walls etc. I am exhausted and becoming very resentful unfortunately. I need some suggestions as to how to cope with this.


  4. February 27, 2020 at 2:37 pm | Posted by Ed

    My biggest struggle is not to show anger or resentment. I purchased all the items that I would need to care for my elderly, incontinent father. Since I was a teen, I have not really liked him as a person. So, I consider this karma/payback. But I use gloves, disinfectant, and air freshener. I keep bed size absorbent pads under him. I keep a freshly lined trash can and fresh pull-ups. So, I just go in with my gloves on and breathe out of my mouth. Then, it is a quick clean up and toss everything. Lysol and Fabreeze to the rescue. I plop in a movie, give him a meal and I am outta there. The home health aide bathes him head to toe. It works out but I have nowhere to put these feelings. Champagne helps.


    • June 15, 2021 at 2:21 pm | Posted by Ann

      I help take care of my grandma and it also can be hard! But a relationship with Jesus really helps! (: do you know Him personally?


  5. September 17, 2019 at 8:37 am | Posted by Amie Riddle

    My mom just recently had two surgery back to back 6 days apart and she is 65. I had to put her on life support for a week because she went into A fib an her kidney, lungs and heart were shutting down she couldn’t breath. I asked can we put her on the life support so she can heal an her body not fight so hard to keep working and they said yes an she would be better an walk out of there . It took a month to get out of hospital. Now she is home an really fragile day. She sits up to walk into her bathroom and doesn’t make it, she has an accident. She is also have extramarital swelling in her feet an legs. I make her sleep elevated an feet propped up. Is anyone have advice for me to help her get back outside an off oxygen she never smoked. Email me [email protected] thanks Amie R.


  6. July 15, 2019 at 5:55 pm | Posted by Anne

    Bless your heart! I too had a similar issue with my father at the cemetery. We were visiting Mom and he had to go. With Alzheimer's he does not have the ability to be embarrassed any longer. So dropping his pants to have a bowel movements was no big deal to him. Wow the new experiences we get on this journey are priceless mortifying while it's happening, but truly priceless


  7. July 12, 2019 at 10:30 am | Posted by Tired and Humiliated

    We had an awful incident on a recent vacation. We were on a friend's boat getting ready to sail, the bathroom was not yet set up. My husband with Alzheimer's had to go so I tried taking him to the club house bathroom. Unfortunately, he could not make it. He dropped his pants and moved his bowels in the grass near a road. A club member yelled at us. It was so humiliating for me, whereas my husband was not the least bit embarrassed. I did not realize I stepped in the waste and got it all over the boat deck. Then my husband fell back getting back off the boat (he was not hurt but screamed like a drama queen). Our friend whose boat it was was horrified and deemed it unsafe to set sail so we never left the harbor. I don't know how much longer I can handle this care-giving journey as more and more 'not normal' behaviors occur.


  8. August 24, 2018 at 6:00 pm | Posted by Brandy Baye

    I oh my gosh my Mo. Doesn't remember where the bathroom is is. Or how to do anything! It's horrible I am stuck here . I love my mon but my gosh this is crazy. She won't eat a whole lot and is down to ,,,75 lbs. I love her very much.


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