We understand this is not easy, but it is important! Incontinence is a common problem, according to the CDC just over 50% of people over 65 living at home reported having some form of incontinence. This means there is a good change that the older person in your life may be struggling with it! There are many reasons why talking about incontinence can be a challenge. It is an embarrassing topic and its part of the shift in roles between parents and children, but we are here to give you a few tips to make it easier!
1. Why you need to have “The Talk”
Your first concern may be to avoid discussing incontinence as you don’t want to cause embarrassment, but there are a few important reasons to re-consider:
- According to the Journal of International Medical Research, individuals with Urinary Incontinence showed significantly higher levels of depression and anxiety than those without. If your parent or loved one is suffering from incontinence they may be feeling anxious about leaving their homes which can lead to feelings of isolation and even depression.
- As we age our sense of smell naturally decreases, which may mean that while your parent thinks they are doing a good job of hiding a problem, they are not. If you have noticed an odor of urine, there is a good chance other people have too.
- Incontinence is one of the leading causes of falls in older people. Rushing to get to the bathroom on time can result in the person tripping and falling.
2. Do some Planning
Like with any important conversation, it pays to spend some time doing some research and planning.
- Decide what your role will be. If you have a good relationship with the person, it may be easier to become the person they trust to help solve the problem. If this is not the case, you may just want to be able to get the person to the point where they will get help from someone else.
- Decide what the goal of the conversation is. Are you hoping to get the person to open up about the problem, and discuss a management plan all in one sitting, or will this require a “staged approach”?
- Do some research into incontinence. Understand the different types as well as the possible causes of incontinence.
- Do some research into the management options available (see below..)
- Choose your words and tone carefully! Avoid using words that have negative connotations (e.g. diaper), but try make sure you are approaching the person with dignity, understanding, patience and respect!
- Choose the right time and have enough time! This is not a conversation to be hurried or done in a public place.
3. Have the Talk
This is the hard part, but if you remember why it is important and keep the love and respect you have for the person at the heart of your discussion, it may go better than you think! Keep your end goal in mind and try to discuss the issue in such a way that incontinence can be normalized and the next step can be taken!
- Conversation starter- A good way to start the conversation would be to refer to how common incontinence is e.g “I recently read that up to 1 in 3 people will suffer from incontinence at some stage of their life, and in many cases it can be successfully managed”..
- Try to keep the conversation going, ask questions, let the person talk and try to have said your main points by the time the conversation ends.
- End the conversation. If it didn’t go well, don’t lose heart! It may just have been their initial response (and be fueled by shame or embarrassment), and once they have had a chance to process what was said they may feel different. In this case, following the conversation up a few days later by simply given them information to read would be a good next step. If the conversation went well, try to end it with the first next step done (e.g. making an appointment with a doctor).
4. Help to Create a Management Plan
Now it will get a little easier! Whether this step is done as a written document or part of the conversation it is much easier than introducing the topic! The plan should include some of the following:
- Make an appointment to see a doctor (and then go!). This is the best place to start. The successful management of incontinence lies in identifying the cause, and then selecting the appropriate treatment and management options.
- Keep a bladder diary. In preparation for the appointment, keep a bladder diary. This helps establish the severity of the problem and identifies any trends. You can download our diary by clicking HERE.
- Discuss the known lifestyle modifications that can improve incontinence and start testing which help. This includes quitting smoking, avoiding bladder irritants (including alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, acidic food, and drinks), losing weight and regular bathroom visits.
- Introduce absorbent products that prevents embarrassing leaks and stains:
- Washable Absorbent Underwear: These are our personal favorite (of course!). The are designed for bladder leaks but are not suitable for full bladder or bowel incontinence. They look and feel like regular underwear, are washable 200 times, prevent odour and prevent leaks and stains!
- Disposable products: These are able to absorb more liquid at a time, so are best suited for more severe incontinence.
- Find some resources with more information about incontinence, lifestyle modifications, management options, absorbent products etc, so that your loved one can do some research of their own
5. You did it!
Hard conversations are hard, but they are usually very worthwhile. Regardless of the outcome, showing someone in your life that you care about them, and being prepared to have an hard conversation to help them, is worthwhile!