Incontinence is one of the most underreported conditions in all of medicine. Over 13 million people in the U.S. (as many as 1 in every 4 seniors) suffer from this condition either in the form of involuntary secretion of urine (urinary incontinence) or inability to control bowel release (fecal incontinence). What many of these people do not realize right is that symptoms of incontinence could be a sign of a much more serious condition. Urinary incontinence is a common early symptom for health afflictions like Parkinson’s Disease, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, any condition that can affect the nervous system or bladder.
For caregivers, it is very important that you take initiative when spotting signs of incontinence and talk to the affected person. The very nature of the condition is embarrassing but essential to catch early on in case something worse is developing. If you know a particular elder that is trying to manage incontinence then touch base with them in private and ask them how they how they are managing. As caregivers it is very important to try and handle the situation while preserving as much dignity as you can for the affected. Here are some subtle ways you can help an elder manage incontinence and continue to live happy and healthy.
Have the person consult a doctor both to see if anything worse is developing and to check what medications they are on. Some medications are known to cause small cases of incontinence as a side effect. Check if there are any alternatives or if the meds are being abused. Overmedication is all too common in assisted living homes and is usually a sign of negligence by a caregiver. Make sure anything prescribed is safe for the individual and taken in proper doses.
Help the affected one get a handle on the condition by helping them develop a better diet. Make sure they avoid bladder stimulating beverages like alcohol, coffee, soda, anything with caffeine. Have them eat foods that are high in fiber at every meal. Fiber will help them remain regular and allow them to better time their bathroom visits so that they don’t suffer an “accident” in public. Nutrition is something that needs to monitored more closely in assisted living homes in general. It is especially important for those with incontinence or digestive problems.
3. Make Sure They Can Get to the Restroom in a Timely Fashion
For those with physical disabilities incontinence can be especially depressing as they usually are not as capable of getting to the restroom in time. Make sure they have adequate mobility aids to help them get to the toilet in a timely manner. Bed pans are also a good option to have in case of a sudden emergency.
One of the many misconceptions about seniors and exercise is that those who suffer from incontinence should avoid strenuous activity altogether. This could not be more wrong as regular exercise can both increase metabolism and improve digestion to help manage incontinence. Always supervise seniors during exercise. Those who are avid joggers or walkers should consider wearing some type of incontinence briefs just in case something should happen. If the individual is still anxious about the condition schedule some time for them to exercise in private as they probably won’t want to engage in any group exercise activities. Do your best to accommodate them until they have a comfortable grasp on things.
5. Engage Them in Personal Conversation to Help them Cope
Some seniors are tremendously affected by having to have someone help them go to the bathroom. Learn about the person and talk about things that make them happy when you are with them. Let them reminisce on brighter days. One day that could very well be you, approach them how you would want to be treated.
About the author
Martha June Whitman is a writer and former caregiver who loves sharing her knowledge and experience to help others with matters of geriatric health. She writes for National Incontinence, a leading supplier of incontinence underwear and tena briefs.