Urinary incontinence can be a devastating, life-altering condition that presents one of the most challenging situations for a caregiver to address. Approximately 20 million adult women and 6 million adult men in the United States experience or have experienced urinary incontinence.

Incontinence is the involuntary loss of urine and is identified as a symptom rather than a disease. There are several types of incontinence, and it is important that a caregiver understands these categories to provide the best possible care and support to their family member or friend. These types of incontinence include Stress, Urge, Reflex, Overflow, Functional and Mixed. The National Association For Continence (NAFC.org) is an excellent resource to learn more about the type of incontinence you may be dealing with.

One of the first steps in caring for someone with incontinence is to acknowledge the problem. This can be an embarrassing situation, and many times the person will try and hide their incontinence from the caregiver. This should be handled through a private conversation with the individual to let them know that their condition is very common. By discussing it, you can come up with treatment options and a plan of care to minimize the incontinent episodes.

Tips for managing incontinence include:

  • Preparing a clear path to the bathroom. Make changes in the home by removing clutter, furniture or rugs that may be an obstacle.
  • Assembling sturdy arms or rails to assist the person in getting out of the bed or chair
  • Providing adequate lighting and night lights
  • Dispensing adequate fluids to prevent the urine from becoming concentrated and potentially irritating the bladder
  • Attempting to establish a pattern for taking the person to the bathroom; begin at two-hour intervals in order to minimize incontinent episodes.
  • Supplying incontinence products, a number of which may be used to help those living with incontinence. Product selection should correlate with the amount of incontinence; the smallest/ most minimal product will be the most dignified for the wearer. Using these products in conjunction with regular bathroom visits can greatly decrease the incontinent episodes and restore some confidence to the individual while making the activity more manageable for the caregiver.

When providing care to someone with incontinence, it is essential that the caregiver make every attempt to be patient and supportive while dealing with sometimes embarrassing situations. Remember that as a caregiver, you are not alone! Referencing the NAFC website or other online forums provides excellent resources to discuss the challenges facing you while dealing with the intimate care need of incontinence.

Michele Mongillo, RN, MSN, is a clinical director who has over 20 years of nursing experience in a variety of settings including acute care, head/spinal cord injury rehabilitation and long-term care.