As people age, their ability to control bladder and bowel functions may decrease for a variety of reasons. Many carers find incontinence to be one of the most difficult aspects of caring. Incontinence can be unpredictable and add to your workload, with cleaning the person, sofas, floors and beds. While it’s not always easy, the right advice and support can help make it more manageable.
Dealing with Incontinence
On a tough day, extra cleaning up can be a tipping point for some of us. Try to remember, the person you care for may be distressed and ashamed about their incontinence. Aim to be calm and patient, and try to accept your own discomfort and embarrassment – humour can help! Talk openly together about the situation and you can take steps to minimize stress on both of you.
- Ensure you get some pads for urinary or bowel incontinence.
- Change pads as required.
- Clothing with velcro fasteners or elasticised waistbands may be easier to manage than clothing with zips or buttons.
- Choose machine-washable garments that don’t require ironing.
- Wash the person’s skin afterwards with warm water. Pat dry and apply a barrier cream sparingly to prevent irritation.
- Use single waterproof sheets to cover sofa cushions, then top that with something easy to wash, but still attractive.
- You can get single waterproof mattress protectors that the mattress fits entirely inside. Washable and removes the risk of leaks at the edges.
- They are fluid-proof and hygienic. As they can be wiped down, they rarely need washing.
- Waterproof mattresses are also available, like those used in hospitals which can save you a lot of work.
- Washable bed pads are easy to wash and quick to dry.
- Disposable bed pads can be expensive but can be convenient.
- Napisan in your wash with a dash of washing-up liquid too – is great for getting things back to the way they were.
- Vinegar in your washing machine helps to kill extra germs
- Marigold gloves, don’t risk getting sick by not using gloves!
- The classic Dettol antibacterial spray and cleaning cloths that we can put into the washing machine afterwards.
Floors and carpets
- Consider using outdoor rugs inside as they are waterproof
- Consider ripping out carpets and replacing them with laminate flooring if you can
- If you prefer carpet there are some amazing carpet cleaning and freshening products on the market.
- Try plug-in air fresheners.
- Consider aids such as a raised toilet or a wall-mounted grab rail if the person is unsteady on their feet. Remove floor mats and make sure the seat is securely fastened to the toilet.
- Don’t rush the person while they are on the toilet.
- Take note of the person’s toileting patterns and suggest they visit the toilet at times that are appropriate to their pattern. Making notes on how often the person urinates and defecates can also help you and your doctor or continence professional to recognise and assess the severity of problems such as constipation.
- Consider keeping a portable commode by the bed if the toilet is too far away for the person to reliably reach in time.
- Use disabled toilets if they are available when you are out. A disabled toilet is usually unisex and has room to fit two people.
- Try to accommodate the person’s need for privacy whenever possible.
- Play some music whilst cleaning up – whatever genre makes you feel good.
- Reframe the situation in your mind. Shift your focus towards something positive.
- Don’t forget to reward yourself when you have finished the task. Put your feet up – have a hot drink. Breathe. It’s done. Well done.
To get referred to your local continence service you will need to contact your GP. The continence service can provide you with advice and equipment such as continence pads for men and women. Washable continence pants can be privately purchased. For men urine sheaths with drainage bags can be advised and then placed on prescription.
Local continence services:
Your local council can often offer a larger black bin or a special ‘clinical waste’ collection.
Occupational Therapists could assess and advise if equipment such as grab bars and commodes would be useful to make moving safer.