Incontinence is a common issue for many people who require hands-on care. Lack of control over the bladder and bowels can affect any client, but its most common among elderly individuals, particularly those living with the later stages of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.
This isn't just a physical problem. Incontinent clients often experience embarrassment, feelings of shame, stress and significant mental upset. If you care for incontinent individuals, we've put together a short guide to increasing their comfort, helping them to maintain dignity and avoid distressing feelings of embarrassment.
Tackle the cause
Every client is different and the causes behind their incontinence vary too. This means that the style of care you provide and the incontinence products you use should be tailored to support each individual uniquely. Common causes are:
- Physical medical conditions such as muscular disorders like Parkinson's disease, prostate problems, diabetes and strokes
- Mobility problems which physically prevent people from reaching the bathroom or removing clothing;
- Medications which relax bladder muscles including sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication;
- Environmental issues such as being unable to find the bathroom (confusion and memory problems).
It's important to identify the cause of each individual's incontinence and provide an appropriate response. More generally, however, there are some key guidelines to bear in mind when helping a person who is dealing with incontinence:
- Be discreet and reassuring Take time to reassure the individual that everything is OK to minimise any feelings of shame. Respect their privacy too. If the incontinence occurs in a public place, don't make a fuss and keep your activities discreet to avoid embarrassment or distress.
- Don't blame Never make the individual feel responsible or guilty. Be matter-of-fact about the situation, but do not scold them. Use phrases like "let's get you tidied up" rather than "you wet yourself" to help avoid blaming your client.
- Never withhold fluids This can result in dehydration which in turn can trigger urinary tract infections which will worsen the problem.
- Give regular reminders Make sure your client is encouraged to use the bathroom regularly and ensure they feel comfortable telling you that they need to use the toilet.
- Don't use baby talk Use adult terminology to talk about going to the bathroom. Childlike words and phrases can belittle people, making them feel out of control, patronised, angry and embarrassed.
- Get to know 'trigger words' Many people feel self-conscious about explaining that they need the toilet or have had an incontinent episode. They may use different words and phrases to explain their problem—particularly if they are suffering from a form of dementia. Get to know each client's personal lexicon so you can offer the correct assistance when it is needed.
- Make toilets accessible and obvious Ensure that bathrooms are clearly signposted, well labelled and accessible to make them easy to identify, find, get to and use.
- Read non-verbal cues Restlessness, pacing, hiding, silences and tugging on clothing can all be signs that people need to use the bathroom or require your assistance with incontinence issues.
- Use incontinence products Such as rubber sheets, incontinence pads or adult nappies to help your client control their incontinence in a dignified way. Explain every incontinence product