How to Care for a Loved One with Incontinence

May 10,2023 |
Caregiver helping an old man walk.

Urinary incontinence is a condition characterized by the involuntary leakage of urine from the bladder. It’s fairly common and affects millions of people of all ages worldwide. In fact, most people will experience one or more symptoms of incontinence at some point in their life. However, the older you get, the more difficult it can be to manage this urologic condition on your own. If your loved one is experiencing incontinence, it’s important to make sure they feel supported and cared for without worsening any feelings of anxiety or shame. To help, here’s a few tips on how to care for a loved one with incontinence.


Different Types of Urinary Incontinence

The first step in understanding how to care for someone with incontinence is educating yourself on the different types. There are five primary types of urinary incontinence, which are as follows:

  • Urge Incontinence: urge incontinence is characterized by a sudden, intense urge to urinate followed by the involuntary loss of urine.


  • Stress Incontinence: this is characterized by leakage due to excess pressure on the bladder, primarily during coughing, laughing, exercising, lifting heavy objects, or sneezing.


  • Overflow Incontinence: this type of incontinence occurs when there is a continual dribbling of urine caused by the inability to completely empty the bladder.


  • Functional Incontinence: this occurs in individuals who have either a mental or physical impairment which makes it difficult to get to the bathroom in time.


  • Mixed Incontinence: mixed incontinence occurs when you experience more than one different type of incontinence. The most common two that occur together are stress and urge incontinence.


What Causes Urinary Incontinence in Seniors?

Urinary incontinence is more common in seniors as the bladder muscles weaken over time. Some of the other common causes of urinary incontinence in seniors include:


Tips for Caring for Someone with Incontinence

Caring for someone with incontinence can be a challenging and sensitive task, but it's also an important one. However, if you’re not a registered caregiver, you might not know where to start or how to make your loved one feel comfortable throughout the process. Luckily, there are some key things you can do to help them maintain their dignity and manage their condition effectively. Here are ten tips for caring for someone with incontinence.


1. Talk to Their Doctor

One of the first and most crucial steps in caring for a loved one with incontinence is to talk to their doctor. This will give you more specific information regarding the type of incontinence they have, which is important for long-term care. Each type of incontinence requires a different approach to treatment, so knowing this up front can help you and your loved one’s doctor create a suitable course of action. When speaking with their doctor, try to talk about potential medication, physical therapy, or lifestyle changes that could help with incontinence management. You might also want to ask for additional resources to help you take on this role.


2. Try to Be Understanding

There’s often a stigma associated with elderly individuals and incontinence. However, having incontinence doesn’t mean that someone has declining mental health or no understanding of what’s going on. It can affect people of all ages, regardless of their state, so try to be understanding. Incontinence can be a distressing and embarrassing condition for those who suffer from it. Be empathetic and try not to make a huge deal about it. Your loved one may feel ashamed, anxious, or frustrated about their condition, so it's important to listen to their concerns and support them emotionally. If you need additional support, consider asking their doctor for recommendations on support groups or mental health professionals.


3. Communicate Openly

In addition to being empathetic, try to maintain an open degree of communication. Be open and honest about their condition and what you’ve spoken to their doctor about. Additionally, try to encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings. If they're uncomfortable discussing their incontinence with you, consider suggesting that they speak to a medical professional or a counselor.


4. Be Aware of Triggers

Incontinence can be triggered by certain foods, drinks, and medications. However, these triggers aren’t the same for everyone. Try to learn what triggers incontinence in your loved one to help reduce the occurrence of episodes. This can be done by keeping a food diary and revisiting it to check for patterns. Some common triggers include alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, tomatoes, spicy foods, sugar, and artificial sweeteners. Instead, stick to foods that promote bladder health. Some people may also be triggered by drinking too little fluids or too many fluids.


5. Consider Using Waterproof Covers

Incontinence can result in a few accidents and some messy situations. To help reduce embarrassment and manage accidents, consider using waterproof covers on furniture and bedding. This can help prevent damage and make the cleanup process much easier and less stressful. Plus, you won’t have to worry about deodorizing things, which can help reduce feelings of shame or anxiety in your loved ones. There are also many diverse types of waterproof undergarments that can be worn to protect against leaks. You could also spray couches or chairs with fabric protector or layer absorbent pads under a furniture cover to make the waterproofing less noticeable.


6. Use a Bathroom Schedule

Creating a daily routine that includes bathroom breaks at scheduled intervals throughout the day is another way to help manage incontinence. This is especially helpful if your loved one is also suffering from any form of dementia. Bathroom schedules can help train the bladder to go at certain times throughout the day, without having to think about it. This would involve scheduling regular bathroom breaks, even if they don’t feel like they need to go. You could start with intervals that are every one to two hours and adjust the schedule until you find something that works for their body. This can help prevent accidents and reduce the risk of urinary tract infections.


7. Find Ways to Diffuse Anxiety or Embarrassment

Incontinence can be embarrassing and may cause anxiety for your loved one. Finding ways to help them feel more comfortable and relaxed can be beneficial. If you know that your loved one appreciates some kind humor, consider using it to lighten the mood or draw away from the situation. However, if you think they would take humor offensively, avoid it. Regardless, always be respectful of the situation and try to accommodate their feelings. Providing privacy and a sense of control can also help reduce feelings of embarrassment.


8. Choose Clothing Wisely

Sometimes, accidents happen because a button can’t be undone quick enough or an elderly individual struggles with a zipper. This is common amongst loved ones with arthritis or other mobility issues. To help make trips to the bathroom easier, consider suggesting a wardrobe change. Try some pants with an elastic waistband or other types of loose-fitting clothes that are easy to remove and wash. Additionally, clothing made from moisture-wicking materials can help keep the skin dry and reduce the risk of irritation. Try to stay away from things with too many fastenings, clasps, or zippers.


9. Have Incontinence Products on Hand

There are several different types of incontinence products made to help manage leaks or accidents. Keep them on hand or easily accessible when you’re caring for your loved one. Some essential incontinence products include disposable undergarments, incontinence briefs or pads, wipes, and bed pads. This can help manage accidents and make cleanup easier. It's also important to have a backup supply of these products, so you're not caught off guard.


10. Consider Professional Help

Being a full-time caregiver can be difficult, especially if you have a career or other family members to care for. So, if managing incontinence becomes overwhelming or challenging, don’t feel bad about seeking professional help. There are many resources available, such as home health aides, nurses, and physical therapists who can provide additional support and guidance. This doesn’t mean that you’re abandoning your loved one. It simply means you want the best care for them around the clock.

Caring for someone with incontinence can be challenging, but with a strategic approach, you can help your loved one manage their condition effectively and maintain their dignity. To help enhance your caregiving journey, Byram Healthcare offers a wide selection of high-quality urological supplies that can be discreetly delivered to your door. Our product guide includes various incontinence products to help support your lifestyle. Browse our product catalog today or call one of our representatives for more information on our catheter delivery program.

Byram Healthcare is a member of the National Association for Continence’s Trusted Partners Program, whose mission is to provide quality continence care through education, collaboration and advocacy. We continue to build partnerships in the clinical community to ensure we focus on what’s best for the patient.