Roughly 13 million Americans are affected by incontinence, with elderly patients as the leading demographic. Also known as the loss of bladder control, urinary incontinence can be stressful and embarrassing for patients. November is National Caregiver Awareness month, but it is important at all times to properly advise patients to ensure they’re physically and mentally well. There are several steps and preventative measures that can be taken to lessen stress and uncertainty.
Understand the Basics
Oftentimes, seniors feel overwhelmed with anxiety and embarrassment surrounding incontinence, and try to hide the signs. Approximately 54% of seniors suggest if they suffered from incontinence, they would be ashamed and hesitant to discuss with their loved ones. When caring for an incontinent patient, be sure to monitor for any and all symptoms, while being as helpful and empathetic as possible. To ensure you’re equipped to spot the signs, first, you need to be able to identify the three most common types of incontinence.
- Urge incontinence: As the most prevalent type, urge incontinence is the involuntary loss of urine due to an intense urge of urination.
- Stress incontinence: Bladder muscles often weaken as individuals get older and sudden physical movements (such as laughing, sneezing, getting up or carrying a heavy item) could contribute to involuntary loss of control.
- Functional incontinence:A patient has the urge to urinate but can’t easily make it to the bathroom quickly due to mental or physical disabilities – examples include arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and neurological disorders.
The “Do’s” for Incontinence Care
As habits and routines have drastically shifted compared to pre-pandemic, be mindful that seniors have experienced great change and their typical schedules have been heavily disrupted. With that in mind, try to provide consistency and structure, and implement healthy habits across the board.
A consistent schedule can help alleviate discomfort and anxiety for both the patient and the caregiver. This can include scheduled bathroom breaks, organizing medication weekly, and setting up reminder systems for ordering necessary incontinence products. To help alleviate anxiety around incontinence episodes, be sure to keep backstock of necessary products when applicable. Ensure the size and absorbency of all products are appropriate so that patients know they always have access to the products they need.
Encourage Healthy Eating
A healthy diet goes a long way in helping to manage incontinence. Increasing intake of fiber enriched foods and healthy carbs (ie: whole grains and brown rice), adding more vegetables and certain fruits that are also high in fiber, such as berries, bananas, apples, and pears can help overall bowel function and urinary health. This also means avoiding dairy, caffeine, and spicy foods to prevent a potential increase in accidents.
Closely Monitor Fluid Intake
This step is crucial, but unfortunately often overlooked. Individuals with incontinence tend to drink less water, in hopes of reducing the risk of leaks or accidents. Meanwhile, low water intake can actually irritate the bladder and increase the risk of other infections, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) which in turn causes more frequent, painful urination that can lead to more accidents. Encourage the intake of fluids throughout the day and add more hydrating foods in patients to help keep their bladders healthy.
It’s also important to try to limit fluid intake in the evenings. Many accidents happen at night when a patient either doesn’t wake up to use the restroom or can’t make it there in time. Stopping fluid intake around 6pm can help minimize the chances of nighttime incontinence. Waking up to a wet bed can be very embarrassing for patients. On top of monitoring fluid intake in the evenings, patients may also benefit from wearing an overnight bladder control product as well as using a protective bed covering such as a chux pad or mattress cover.
The “Don’ts” for Incontinence Care
Try not to be reactive
It’s not easy watching a patient or loved one struggle with incontinence, but it’s imperative to exercise as much patience as possible. Try not to get frustrated and be flexible by altering your care strategy appropriately to best fit the patient’s needs. Having honest conversations and offering extended support when needed the most will go a long way in addressing incontinence with dignity and destigmatizing the condition for those living with it.
Avoid terms that could appear insensitive
Words, such as “diaper,” could come off demeaning and evoke shame in the patient. Think about words carefully and ensure you’re being as sensitive as possible. If a patient feels ashamed or embarrassed, they could further hide their symptoms and avoid being honest with you, which could lead to more serious health complications.
The pandemic has been difficult for a myriad of reasons, especially for seniors struggling with incontinence. When caring for an incontinent patient, be aware of all the signs, get them on a routine, implement tips to ensure a healthy bladder and lastly, avoid coming off as reactive and try to be as patient as possible. Empathy goes a long way and will leave the patient feeling more settled during this uncertain, stressful time.
Mica Phillips is Director of Urology at Aeroflow Urology, a durable medical equipment supplier that provides individuals across the country with incontinence supplies through insurance. An advocate for those living with incontinence, Mica is committed to helping men, women, and children navigate their insurance benefits to receive high-quality products that they can depend on.