How You Can Help Your Parents Cope With Incontinence
When was the last time you had a chat with your family or friends about incontinence? Most of us don’t talk about it, even though incontinence affects more than half of seniors and many younger adults have incontinence, too. Ignoring the problem can lead to unpleasant consequences beyond the obvious, such as depression, falls, social isolation and other untreated health problems.
I recently asked a group of caregivers about their experiences helping loved ones with incontinence. They shared advice on getting parents to admit there’s an issue, affording incontinence products and coping with the added challenges of dementia and limited mobility.
How to Talk About Incontinence
First, a reminder that if your mom or dad suddenly develops incontinence, they should see their doctor. Possible causes can include prostate problems, urinary tract infections, weak pelvic floor muscles and more. Some types of incontinence are treatable with medication or physical therapy.
“There was some resistance on the part of my dad to acknowledge he needed help,” wrote Karolyn, a family caregiver in California. “I have since learned this is pretty common for dementia patients.”
But even cognitively healthy older adults tend to keep quiet about incontinence. To get your folks to open up, you might try normalizing it by mentioning your own issues, if you have them, or bring up others who’ve talked about incontinence.
You can also keep a supply of briefs or pads at home and say they’re for anyone who needs them.
How to Help a Parent With Incontinence Save Face
It’s best not to call incontinence products diapers. “Dad uses ‘briefs,’ and I think it helps that this is what they are called,” wrote Karen, a Washington resident whose father lives in a senior community. She also noted that parents sometimes prefer help from a professional instead of family.
“He has avoided getting changed when I’m there to visit because he is embarrassed, which only leads to getting a terrible rash. I try to be matter-of-fact about it all, but what he really prefers is if I pretend I don’t know he’s getting changed and I’m just out of the room while they ‘do a procedure.’”
You can also help by adapting your parent’s clothing, environment or routine. Rachel, a family caregiver in Maine, wrote that her dad’s Parkinson’s makes it hard for him to deal with snaps and zippers. “He was having accidents because he couldn’t get his pants off in time. I bought him some Velcro-closure pants from a website that specializes in clothing for people with disabilities. They look like regular jeans but are much easier to undo.”
A change in health status or care setting, like going into rehab after a fall, can lead to incontinence, too. “With my grandmother, the biggest issue wasn’t incontinence, it was mobility,” wrote Jacqui, a family caregiver in Texas. “She was able to use the bathroom, she just needed help to get there. At my house, I got her there.”
After an illness or injury, adjusting to a pad or brief can be upsetting or confusing. When Jacqui’s grandmother went into nursing care, she was given briefs to prevent accidents if an aide couldn’t assist her in time, “which she found degrading.” Karolyn had a similar experience with her father during a rehab stay. “He continually attempted to try to get out of bed to go to the bathroom even though we had him in a brief.”
If your parents are going through something similar, talk to them about the risk of falls. You may also ask their aides about adding a bed alarm so the staff will know when they try to get up.
How to Afford Incontinence Products
The short answer is to shop carefully, because briefs and pads can cost anywhere from 50 cents to about $1 a piece. You may also need wet gloves and chux pads to protect furniture, rash cream and wipes.
You can use online shopping comparison apps to find the best deals and even get price-match credit back from some merchants. One caregiver said she set up an Amazon subscription to deliver at least 90 briefs per month for her mom at a discount. Others check the shelves at thrift stores for unopened packs of briefs and furniture pads.
Whenever you’re helping your folks with incontinence, a matter-of-fact attitude and patience are helpful. As Sarahbeth, a Texas-based family caregiver put it, “it’s uncomfortable, but it’s got to be done.”