We’ve all had that embarrassing moment…the one when we’re out with old friends, laughing so hard for the millionth time at the story about that one time Joan fell while she was ice skating and during one of your laughing fits a little bit of pee leaks out. Don’t be shy, it’s happened to us all. However, for some, this is a regular occurrence that can be extremely uncomfortable, embarrassing and begin to limit activities that once caused joy for fear of not being close enough to a bathroom. Fortunately, there are ways to manage and deal with incontinence and we’ll talk about some here today.
First, it’s important to meet with your doctor to discuss the different types of incontinence and to get a proper diagnosis. There is an overactive bladder where people feel the urge to go very often or stress incontinence which is caused by any activity that puts pressure on the abdomen, to name a few. When meeting with your doctor, it is also important to bring along a list of any medications you are taking as some medications can actually cause incontinence and it will be important to rule out that your incontinence isn’t caused by a med you are taking.
People who suffer from incontinence should also balance their fluid intake. It may make sense to you if you suffer from an overactive bladder to drink less so in essence you have to go less. However, this is not the case. Drinking too little can irritate the bladder, too and a better idea is to balance your fluid intake during the day and schedule timed evacuations for yourself. Even if you feel like you don’t have to go, go. This will help avoid leaks and urgent bathroom runs. And speaking of bathrooms…it may give you peace of mind to scope out where the bathrooms will be when you’re out and about. Take a look around the restaurant you are dining in or ask the information desk at the museum you are visiting. That way you know you are always close when and if the urge arises.
Incontinence doesn’t just affect the bladder. There are different types of stool incontinence as well, ranging from urge incontinence – where there is an urge to go but the person may have to run to the restroom to make it in time – to passive incontinence, where the person feels no urge at all and often passes a stool with no warning. Unfortunately, incontinence of all types often affects our elderly loved ones who suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia and this can be very difficult for them as well as for us a caregivers. There are steps you can take though to minimize your loved ones risk for accidents. Depending on the level at which your loved one is suffering from memory loss, it might help to boldly identify the bathroom with a large, bright picture of a toilet posted on the door of the bathroom. That way if you are not there to assist, they can find their way more easily. Make sure the route to the toilet is easy to navigate. For example, move that big easy chair out of the way so the path down the hallway is clear and unobstructed. It may be good to assess how stable your loved one is on their feet. Do they have trouble maneuvering around, getting up and down onto chairs or the bed? If you know your loved one need assistance in other areas of the home to maneuver safely, it is probably a good bet that the safety precautions you take in the living room or bedroom should be taken in the bathroom as well. Install safety rails if necessary so they can easily set themselves down and stand up or offer them the use of a commode if they are comfortable with it. Another tip to help your loved one is to make sure that their clothing has easy to undo fastenings. Buttons may be difficult for unsteady hands but elastic waisted pants (like sweatpants) are much easier to get up and down.
Finally, don’t let a diagnosis of incontinence keep you and your loved one from doing the things they love outside of the house. By being prepared you can still enjoy lots of activities that you love doing. Bring an emergency ”kit” with you that has a change of clothes, plastic bags for soiled clothing and even some pads or adult diapers. And please, as hard as it may be, don’t act angry or upset with your loved one. As you can imagine, it is probably just as hard for them to have to deal with something that is very embarrassing as it is for you to deal with having to be the one to manage it.
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