Speaking to your elderly parent about their Incontinence

Speaking to Elderly

Discussing incontinence with an elderly parent can be a challenge that few expect to deal with.  This may be an embarrassing subject to bring up as children do not want to offend their parents, who have been independent adults in control of their family throughout their lives.

Speaking to ElderlyYou can notice things from your parent’s environment that could mean that they are struggling with incontinence – especially bad smell from their bedroom or clothes.   With the aging process or due to certain medical conditions, seniors cannot manage their bodily functions like before.  Some may need adult diapers all the time, while others may just be slow to reach to the toilet due to reduced mobility or speed.  An elderly person can find these situations both frustrating and depressing.  Some can be in total denial that they would need help with their incontinence, while others can express anger or can be hesitant to talk about the problem.

Neither you nor your parent should feel embarrassed about discussing incontinence.  These are some practical tips to approaching your parents in a dignified way:

  1. Get Educated about Incontinence: Sometimes incontinence can be temporary or can be improved.  Get to know more about improving the condition or using assistive devices that can help manage incontinence at home.  You will be equipped with the right information during the discussion.
  2. Careful thought about the conversation: In order to have a meaningful conversation about incontinence, you have to begin with careful thinking of how you will approach the subject.  Figure out who will do the talking – you, your sibling, a healthcare professional or a friend? Pick the right time and a quiet relaxing atmosphere.  Practice what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.
  3. Having the conversation: Speak with empathy and compassion while bringing up the subject.  Overall, the goal should be to normalize incontinence so that they do not feel ashamed. You want to speak with positivity and encouragement, making sure not to blame or scold them.   Speak to them about all the things they are able to do if they are able to manage their incontinence effectively.
  4. Offer them solutions: If urinary incontinence is a serious problem, it will be necessary to wear bladder control undergarments such as pull up pants, diapers, pads or liners. Look for something that is comfortable and less obvious under their clothing.  Absorbent material have come a long way and disposable underwear is thinner than ever.  Research products that matches your parent’s leakage level and protection needs so that they do not have to worry about embarrassing leaks or odors.  Adults prefer using pull-up pants as it easier to put on and take off than adult diapers with re-sealable tapes, allowing for greater control and autonomy for the user.
  5. Do not call them “Diapers”: Diapers are associated with babies, and adults can feel helpless, embarrassed and even insulted.  Calling them by a different name like briefs, pads or disposable underwear, can make speaking to your parent much more comfortable.  A simple change in language can empower your parent and preserve their sense of dignity. 
  6. Have them speak to a Doctor or their peer: Many caregivers find that it is hard to talk to their loved ones about incontinence and the best way to do so is by taking them to their doctor. The doctor can help them to understand the importance of properly managing urinary incontinence and can assure them that their condition is normal. Talking to a peer can be beneficial, as they can empathize with the challenges of aging and may even share their advice based on their own personal experience.

 If your parent is highly resistant to talking, it may not be the right time to discuss this subject.  Bring it up again after some days as it is an important conversation to have. Reassure them that incontinence is not their fault or something that they should be able to control by themselves.

Growing older brings in a great sense of wisdom and fulfillment of a well lived life.  Show your parent how they can continue to live an active ageing lifestyle with confidence and without the embarrassment of incontinence.

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