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.
Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.