Having the Incontinence Talk with Parents
Where to begin
Incontinence is a condition that is difficult for anyone to accept. Many seniors start by simply ignoring the issue. The sense of lost dignity can be very difficult for people that are still cognitively sound. How do you talk about this with anyone? The age group that seniors represent today, are just not comfortable with a discussion like this. Heck, you could never imagine a pair of men in this age group, playing golf together and having a conversation about the need to wear an adult diaper. That is why, often, it becomes the duty of a daughter or son to initiate the discussion with their parents.
One of the most awkward conversations people have with their parents is the topic of bladder leakage or incontinence. It is very personal, can be embarrassing, and degrading for everyone. When incontinence occurs, the mess and smell can be a problem that if ignored, can become a huge issue. It is best to address it early, perhaps before someone even becomes incontinent. It is best to address incontinence head on. For the best results, you need to approach the topic carefully with empathy and with some planning. Remember, 1 in 15 Americans are searching for answers on how to deal with these issues, and incontinence is the second largest reason seniors leave their home for an Assisted Living Community.
Incontinence is a condition that is often difficult for a person to accept and deal with. Many seniors try to ignore this new development and carry on with their lives, but a head-in-the-sand approach usually draws more attention to the problem. There are ways to encourage a loved one to address this issue, but they require patience, understanding and a commitment to upholding your loved one’s dignity.
Tip: Strike the Word Diaper from Your Vocabulary
“My parent won’t wear adult diapers and it drives me nuts!”
This is a common complaint from family caregivers whose loved ones are suffering from incontinence, and I absolutely sympathize. However, one glaring piece of this sentence stands out: the word “diaper.”
Figuring out how to talk to elderly parents about incontinence is difficult. The first thing we urge caregivers to do when tackling this sensitive topic is to think carefully about their word choices. Seniors often rebel against the word “diaper” as an adult of any age would, and for good reason. This term is typically associated with babies or toddlers who have yet to be toilet trained. What adult would take kindly to the word when it’s applied to them?
Deal With Elderly Incontinence Denial Head On
If your loved one is still cognitively sound, but simply prefer to live in denial about this new development in their health, try appealing to their sense of vanity. After all, vanity is what keeps us in denial about many age-related issues. Our culture is guilty of ageism to the extent that many people go to extremes to appear as though they are winning this losing battle against time.
Certainly, incontinence is very difficult to accept. However, if you, or a third party, can convince your mom or dad that it’s much more embarrassing to smell like urine than it is to wear proper protection, you may get somewhere. Promise to work with them to find a comfortable, absorbent, and low-profile solution that will enable them to maintain their dignity, extend their independence and improve their appearance. Incontinence frequently causes seniors to withdraw and become less active so they can avoid embarrassing situations, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Woman to woman or man to man talks can have better results but not every family has that luxury. There are times when a son must talk to mom and a daughter has to talk to dad. In any of these situations, remember to be empathetic and understanding. This will help the parent be less embarrassed and more comfortable. You also want to pick a pleasant time to have the incontinence talk with your parent. Go for a walk in the park, sit on a bench outside, or do an activity that your loved one enjoys a lot like cards or a hobby. The goal is to create an environment that makes your parent feel secure and safe while discussing the topic of incontinence. Finally, you want to practice your tone and body language because they communicate 70% of your message. More than any words you say. Practice rehearsing to be sure you have everything right. You want to come across as calm and helpful. If you are frustrated and let it show, you may come across as angry and resentful. Practicing will help you present yourself in the best possible way.
Having the Conversation
Begin with the end in mind by having a goal for the conversation. Speak with gentleness, compassion, and understanding when you talk to your parent about incontinence, so they do not feel ashamed. This will help your loved one feel more comfortable and less embarrassed. Open very gently and very slow so they do not feel threatened or defensive. Next tell them openly and honestly about your concerns. Address the things you have seen around the house. It is okay to be detailed about your observations of the nature and frequency of their accidents.
Hopefully, they will be responsive to your conversation about their incontinence. If they feel comfortable discussing it, they may continue the conversation with positive results. If on the other hand they deny the issue, do not give up – keep talking. Focus more on their symptoms and remember to be sympathetic to their situation and feelings of embarrassment. Continue to speak in a loving tone that makes them comfortable. Focus on making incontinence a normal part of aging. Above all else, do not make them feel ashamed or ostracized because of their incontinence.
Diminished Senses of Sight and Smell
Our senses weaken naturally as we age and can result in a senior’s lack of awareness of how smelly and soiled their clothing and furniture is. Even if they acknowledge that they’ve had an accident, they may downplay it and continue wearing the same clothing (wet or dry) when it desperately needs to be laundered. Because they don’t realize the full impact that incontinence has on their personal presentation, they may truly feel that incontinence protection is unnecessary, especially if they don’t leave the house or have visitors over regularly.
It’s a difficult subject to broach but informing a loved one that their body odor or the smell in their home has become offensive is sometimes the ticket to compliance with incontinence products. Some elders are truly embarrassed when they realize that others have caught onto the issue, they thought they had been successfully covering up. Just be sure to break the news gently and respectfully.
Depression Can Be a Contributing Factor
If your loved one feels no embarrassment or concern over their smell or appearance, then you may have a more serious underlying issue on your hands. Unfortunately, loss of interest in personal care, socialization and other activities can be symptoms of depression.
Spotting depression in seniors is tricky, but social isolation, chronic health conditions and pain puts this demographic at a significantly higher risk. At the very least, depression screening should be part of your loved one’s annual visit to their primary care physician. If you notice the symptoms between visits, it’s important to make an appointment as soon as possible. Treating depression may help your loved one feel better and spur them to engage in personal care again, which, in turn, can boost their self-esteem and encourage them to venture out and socialize more.
Dementia Might Be the Culprit
If denial, obliviousness and depression aren’t factors in your loved one’s refusal to partake in continence care, a dementia screening might be the next step. It doesn’t matter who tries to reason with them or how they go about it. If cognitive decline is a factor, a senior may no longer be capable of making sound decisions about wearing incontinence products, changing their clothing or other important self-care tasks. Make a doctor’s appointment for a full evaluation whenever new or worsening memory issues or signs of dementia appear. Early diagnosis is crucial for adequate planning and care.
Did you know that incontinence is one of the most common causes of falls in older adults? A parent with incontinence is often rushing to the bathroom during a sudden urge to go, and in their rush, they can trip and fall. Make sure there is a clear path to the restroom, and that it is well lit for nighttime visits. Wearing disposable incontinence garments may protect your parent from potential falls as well as bathroom accidents.
It may take more than one conversation but when the time is right, start suggesting options. If your parent has not seen a doctor, that is a great place to start. The doctor can determine if there is an underlying medical issue causing the incontinence and offer treatment options. As well, doctors are great for introducing the topic of incontinence products like adult briefs and protective underwear.
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- Avoid using the word ‘diaper’ as it may cause a negative reaction. Instead use the term ‘adult brief’ or ‘protective underwear’. This is a more neutral way of talking about incontinence products.
- If you bring a third party with you, decide in advance who will be the primary one to talk. A health professional, family member or your parent’s close friend are all good options.
- Do not make the conversation about you and make the goal of the conversation about their needs.
- Be sure your parent’s doctor is informed.
- Be reassuring and tell them they are not alone with their incontinence.
- Plant incontinence product samples in the bathroom and underwear drawer. Don’t forget to put a bucket in the bathroom for proper disposal.
- Use Google to research cleaning ideas (carpet, furniture, clothing) to remove odors and stains.
- Clear a path to the bathroom. This is important to prevent falls or accidents when rushing to the bathroom.
- Help your parent get on a schedule of going to the bathroom after a specific period has passed. (For example, go every 2 hours.) This can minimize sudden rushes to the bathroom and help reduce accidents.
- Walk them through how the incontinence products work. Be reassuring that it is easy and will prevent accidents from being discovered because the product catches everything. (View our sizing chart to ensure a proper fit.)