Although incontinence is a common senior health condition, it is widely stigmatized. Elders with fecal and/or urinary incontinence may struggle to continue leaving their homes and leading active lives due to the possibility of accidents and embarrassment. However, being prepared and using swift and proper techniques for toileting and continence care can help reduce the likelihood of accidents and awkwardness, whether you’re at home or on the go.
Tips for Handling Senior Incontinence Care Issues
Bedwetting in the Elderly
Nocturnal enuresis (wetting the bed) is a common problem for seniors with urinary incontinence. The biggest challenges surrounding nighttime incontinence episodes are ensuring you and your loved one get enough quality sleep, maintaining cleanliness and skin integrity, and managing the overwhelming amount of soiled laundry that these accidents produce.
First, investing in a high-quality waterproof mattress cover (some family caregivers recommend doubling these up for added protection) will protect the foundation of the bed. Second, know that it often requires some trial and error to find incontinence products such as adult diapers that best contain messes. There are many different types that fit a little differently for every person, but overnight briefs are typically the most absorbent. Next, placing absorbent washable bed pads with waterproof backing strategically on the bed can help catch any overflow in case leaks happen. Lastly, having plenty of extra clean linens and bed pads handy can make cleaning up after an incident faster and more efficient.
Changing Adult Diapers and Emptying the Commode
Dealing with human waste is never a pleasant experience, but it is something that should be done tactfully to maintain your loved one’s dignity during brief changes and while emptying bedside commodes. It is one thing to remain upbeat and respectful, but many caregivers are unable to control the natural reflexes (coughing, gagging, etc.) that can arise when handling these odorous tasks.
Family caregivers who are sensitive to odors may benefit from dabbing a bit of Vick’s VapoRub on their upper lip, wearing a surgical mask, adding a splash of Listerine to the commode bucket, using scented commode liners or trash bags for quick, easy disposal of used incontinence supplies, lighting a few candles or opening up the windows to bring in fresh air. These tricks can help neutralize odors at least enough to minimize visceral reactions that can cause an elder to feel ashamed or self-conscious.
The truth is that some caregivers simply cannot get over this aspect of hands-on care for their loved ones. Just as incontinence issues are typically out of a person’s control, reactions to urine and especially feces can be equally unmanageable. Many family members consider incontinence care to be the caregiving line that they simply cannot cross. Worsening incontinence is often what spurs families to hire professional in-home caregivers or place a loved one in senior living.
Unfortunately, accidents happen. This is especially true during the onset of incontinence when both the senior and the caregiver are not anticipating these bothersome new symptoms. New episodes of leakage should be immediately discussed with a doctor to rule out any other underlying health issues and discuss treatment options.
However, even if a senior is wearing an adult diaper, their clothing may still get soiled. If you plan on venturing out in public with an elder who is incontinent, make sure that you always bring along a “plan b” bag. This should include sanitary supplies like wipes and barrier cream, a complete change of clothes (occasionally a fresh pair of socks and shoes may be necessary as well) and a plastic bag to contain the soiled clothing until you get home. If you’re close by, it may be wiser to conceal a senior’s soiled clothing (a jacket strategically tied around their waist can help preserve their dignity) and make a beeline for home.
Sometimes seniors don’t notice that they’ve leaked, and it can be heartbreaking to point out to a loved what has happened. Ensuring you’re prepared to handle the situation should it arise and always being sensitive to and respectful of their feelings will help you solve the problem with minimal embarrassment. If they see that you are calm and well-equipped, then they’re less likely to fret.
Changing an Adult Diaper in a Public Bathroom
If you are taking an elderly person for a long car ride or on an extended day trip, you may be faced with the task of changing an adult diaper in a public bathroom. The first thing you want to do is secure a handicapped stall or family bathroom. This will give you the maximum amount of room and privacy.
The trickiest part about incontinence product changes in public is that they often require total removal of a senior’s shoes and pants, especially if pull-up style briefs are being used. Undressing and dressing an elder with poor balance and coordination in a germy public bathroom is far from ideal. However, you can experiment with removable diaper liners (sometimes referred to as booster pads) to avoid complete changes. These can be easily replaced as they become soiled and may not require total removal of the brief itself.
Another option is to try using incontinence briefs with adjustable tab closures at the sides during outings. Unlike the pull-up style, changes do not require removal of one’s shoes and pants. The soiled brief can be unfastened at each hip and slid off between a senior’s legs and a new one can be easily slid into place and fastened after cleansing.
Of course, plan b bags are always a necessity on even the shortest outings, but bringing along some extra antibacterial wipes, paper towels and disposable garbage bags can help you feel a little more comfortable handling such a delicate task in unsanitary conditions. If you simply must remove a senior’s shoes and bottoms, make sure they make use of any grab bars in the stall for extra stability and to prevent falls. Including a small towel or blanket in your plan b bag or even grabbing a newspaper on the way into the bathroom will give your loved one something sanitary to stand on while barefoot instead of the grimy floor. It can’t hurt to be overprepared!