A Guide to Caring for Someone With Incontinence
by Gary Sattin on Oct 06, 2022
As people age, urinary incontinence becomes more likely because of a number of factors. Thankfully, there is recourse for recovery. The trouble is, sometimes older individuals find it harder to cope without someone to help them overcome daily obstacles. While this sudden change is not the most welcome one for someone with bladder troubles, it’s also a tough one for their caregiver.
Whether you are caring for your loved one—many times a parent—or are a professional, this role has idiosyncrasies that few others do. It’s nice to know, as you grow into your responsibilities, that there is support. For help, here’s a guide to caring for someone with incontinence that tackles every stage.
First, you’ll need to handle the initial stages of care well, which is perhaps the most stressful and confusing part.
Transitioning to in-home assisted living, in whatever capacity, is tumultuous for you and your loved one or client. For decades, they led an independent life. Perhaps they were the person to care for others, and now this reversal is confusing. As a caregiver, don’t take the reins too quickly—slowly ease into care sensitively. This gives them time to adjust to this massive life change gracefully rather than experiencing a dizzying loss of control.
For loved ones, talk through what they want as you assist them and honor their boundaries, speaking up, of course, when needed. If they express feeling like a burden, comfort and encourage them. Communicate honestly about how you wish it weren’t this way, but also emphasize your love and commitment to them. Frame the conversation hopefully, discussing how they can make progress with their incontinence and other difficulties.
Establish an Effective Space and Schedule
Practically, their living space will need changes. Your foremost priority is making the bathroom easily accessible. Remove unnecessary furniture and make their path as straight as possible without turning their home upside down.
As a caregiver, the most important way to limit incontinence episodes altogether is by instituting a schedule. Though it seems strictly physiological, urinating is really dependent on an individual’s patterns of behavior. And what is a schedule but a guidebook to lead our behavior?
Agreeing to specific times of the day for bathrooming—every three hours typically works—trains their bladder so they regain control. This is much easier and far less discouraging than trying to help when they feel a sudden urge or have an accident.
Encourage and Help With Incontinence Products
Another tip for getting started: find the best incontinence products for your loved one or client and encourage routine use. These may be a hard sell—wearing a “diaper” sounds demeaning—but their benefits are substantial. The degree of their incontinence symptoms dictates what they use. Reusable incontinence underwear addresses moderate leakage well, while more substantial needs call for fitted briefs with the possibility for added capacity with booster pads. Once you locate a product, frame it as a tool for future freedom to get them to agree.
After settling in, the next phase of this guide to caring for someone with incontinence involves turning your caregiving attention to helpful management strategies.
Regulate Their Diet
As their caregiver, you typically have broad control over their food. As you prepare meals, keep a few important dietary tips in mind. First, caffeinated beverages, including coffee, soda, and tea, threaten their bladder health. That’s because caffeine, a stimulant, amplifies bladder activity and contributes to more frequent urination your care recipient cannot control.
To slow this down, talk to them about weaning off caffeine gradually. In the process, get rid of excess sugars, spicy foods, and milk products that exacerbate incontinence episodes. In their place, introduce more vegetables, grains, and non-citrus fruits, all of which are gentler and non-stimulating.
Get Them Active
Once you cement a schedule, add exercise to it. One common feature of people with incontinence is weak pelvic floor muscles, so avoid initiating exercises that place undue strain on these muscles. That means steering clear of core strength training (crunches) and certain aerobic exercises. Instead, build in time for swimming and/or yoga, two excellent ways to achieve the benefits of activity without the incontinence consequences.
If you want to help them specifically target their symptoms, tell them about the benefits of Kegel exercises. Kegels, which involve periodically clenching and releasing your pelvic muscles, help them locate and use these muscles to prevent a leak. Not only will these allow for broader exercise and mobility, but a stronger pelvic floor stops sudden leaks caused by coughs and sneezes.
Over time, your loved one or client will need a breath of fresh air. Getting out of the house has great psychological benefits. The problem, though, is going out without an issue. Prepare a small duffel bag with any necessary incontinence products and extra clothes they require. This way, you can not only plan for an outing but let them live a spontaneous life again, going out when they feel like it.
How to Achieve Longevity as a Caregiver
Looking into the future, you want to be the best caregiver you can be for as long as they need you. If you care for a parent or loved one, it’s possible you didn’t anticipate a sudden shift in your role when it happened. While you powered through the first few months because you had to, you should prepare yourself for a caregiving marathon, not a sprint.
If you falter, seek help. Talk to out-of-town family who can relieve you or hire someone else to take some of your load. More indirectly, begin counseling to talk through your sadness and anger with a neutral third party.
Bringing up your sadness allows you to process through your grieving productively rather than turning inward. Meanwhile, dissecting any mounting anger toward your caregiving recipient nips it in the bud, enabling you to stay positive, patient, and persistent as you’re with your loved one.
As others relieve you from caregiving duties, spend time pursuing something you enjoy. This can be as minor as picking up a long-forgotten hobby or as considerable as starting your own small business. Productivity outside of caregiving pleasantly broadens your life.
Other times when you’re by yourself, you may wish to do nothing at all. Rather than feel guilty when you aren’t caregiving, allow yourself that complete downtime. Assisting someone else is a physical and emotional drain that allows you little sleep. So if you need to sleep in, go to the spa, or do something purely fun, let yourself do so. In the long run, these reprieves afford you added caregiving endurance.