Dealing with incontinence can be stressful and emotionally taxing. If you’re providing care to someone with incontinence, know that you’re not alone and that there are resources and products to help you manage the situation.
You can make the process easier on yourself and your loved one. Of course, the first thing you should do is discuss this with your loved one’s doctor. Assuming that any medical issues have been diagnosed and are being treated, there are things you can do to make caregiving for someone with incontinence easier on you. We’ve outlined a few tips and strategies that will help you in this journey.
First off, we want you to know that you’re not alone. Incontinence feels like a taboo subject, but it’s actually quite common and even expected at certain stages of life. According to the American Urology Association, an estimated 25% to 33% of adults in the U.S. have dealt with urinary incontinence. Men who have undergone prostate surgery, adults with dementia, children as they go through potty training, and even women after giving birth are all prone to bouts of bedwetting or incontinence.
Seek forums or support groups to help you through the difficult emotions that come with dealing with incontinence in a loved one, and you’ll realize that there are tons of other people going through the same thing as you. And isn’t that oddly comforting?
If you’re caring for someone who’s dealing with incontinence, you’re not only providing support to their physical health and comfort, but also to their emotional well being. By practicing empathy, you’ll have a better understanding of how your loved one is feeling and why they might be acting the way they are. They could be feeling helpless, out of control, or even resistant to their dependence on another person. It’s important to speak calmly and honestly with them to help see things from their point of view. While it’s not always easy, practicing empathy means seeing where they’re coming from and knowing that, even if it doesn’t always feel this way, they’re doing the best that they can.
You’re going to have days where cleaning up soiled sheets is the last thing you want to do. Depending on whether you’re caring for a child who wets the bed, an adult after surgery, or someone with a persistent disorder, you might be dealing with incontinence for a little or a long time. It goes without saying that you should be patient with the person in your care, they can’t help their condition, but it’s especially important that you’re patient with yourself. Be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling, and understand that if you’re losing a lot of sleep while providing care, you might be even more emotional or frustrated than usual. There will be days that you’ll feel angry, frustrated, or at your wits’ end, and when that happens, remember to have patience for yourself. You’re only human after all.
Reassure the person who you are caring for that this is a part of life, and make sure that they don’t bottle it up. The stress or anxiety caused by feeling like something is “wrong with me” might make the person you’re caring for try to hide their incontinence from you. Discuss it openly with them and be ready to say things like “it’s ok that you had an accident, let’s get this cleaned up.” The more you normalize incontinence for them, the more they’ll feel comfortable being honest about their situation and their accidents.
Dealing with incontinence can be more difficult if there are physical limitations. For example, if the person in your care has paralysis and you are much smaller than they are, speak with an occupational or physical therapist about how to best move your loved one’s body without straining yourself in the process.
If you’re losing a lot of sleep, see if you can hire or find another caregiver to support you so that you can rest. If you’re feeling down or are having a hard time coping, find a therapist that you can talk to. If the financial burden is too much, see if there are government support programs, charitable organizations, or other friends or family members that can help with some of the financials. Whatever it is that you’re going through, you don’t need to deal with incontinence all alone, there are people and groups who can counsel and support you.
Incontinence doesn’t have to stop you from getting out and living life. We’re reminded of Louisa Clark, the fictional character in Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You. The hero of our story organizes activities outside the house for Will Traynor, the quadrapeligic that she’s hired to care for. In their first outing, she makes the mistake of failing to check for wheelchair accessibility at the race track. Following that, though, she over prepares for every situation and helps Will get out of the house to enjoy life a little more.
Similarly, if you’ve limited your outings to essential trips, there are products and tools that you can use to make getting out of the home a little easier and more comfortable for you both. We've even written some tips on how to deal with incontinence in a bathing suit to help with those summer months.
Food & Beverages
Caffeinated beverages, chocolate, spicy foods, and alcohol can all exacerbate incontinence, so make sure your care receiver avoids them as much as possible, especially if you have an outing prepared.
When you go out, plan to bring a care kit with you. This should contain a spare pair of underwear, antibacterial soap or hand sanitizer, wipes, medication (if taken), and water. Though it seems counterintuitive, it’s important for people with incontinence to drink enough water. Dehydration will only irritate the bladder more.
Whether you’re staying in or going out, have reusable incontinence mats on hand. You might use these in the car, on the wheelchair seat (if applicable), on restaurant or movie theatre chairs, and at home on the couch or bed.
The PeapodMats reusable incontinence mats are easy to use, easy to wash, and discrete enough to bring with you in your outings. They don’t crinkle, they lay flat and aren’t bulky, and they come in three different sizes, including 1.5’ x 1.5’, perfect for wheelchairs, cars, and seats. If you are going out with your loved one, bring a laundry bag with you so that if the mat gets soiled during your outing, you can easily toss it in the laundry bag and carry on with your day. Bring a backup mat if this is likely to happen.
Unfortunately, dealing with incontinence is not just a series of medical steps, it’s an emotional journey too. Thankfully, though, there are resources, support groups, and products that can help make this so much easier for you. If you’re used to changing the sheets in the middle of the night or avoiding trips outside the home, using the PeapodMat will be life changing for you.
Need more information? Read our Incontinence in Adults: The Facts post.