How do I take care of a parent with urinary incontinence?

For many people, talking about urinary incontinence is a difficult thing to do. It’s especially challenging for elderly or aging parents to disclose that information to their children or families. Urinary incontinence is often seen as an embarrassing topic, and many people will want to avoid it. 

However, you don’t always need to talk about incontinence in order to offer care for your elderly parent or family member. Dr. Brandy Archie, occupational therapist and founding director of Accessible Living, says that there are plenty of things you can do to make managing incontinence easier, just in case this is an issue that your loved one is experiencing.

“You can put forward some solutions just kind of in advance so they can choose to do it and it’s already there,” Archie said. 

This can be part of the preparation that you’re already doing at home as you get ready to have guests stay for the holiday season. 

“A big help might be making the commode more easily available at nighttime by plugging in night lights so it’s a safer trip and they can make it there more quickly,” Archie said.  

She added that night is when most people experiencing urinary incontinence will have accidents, so it may be helpful to get something to go over the mattress as well.

“You can also put a mattress protector on the bed, because they have ones that aren’t just plastic now, so it won’t sound bad, and you know you’ll be protected if there’s an accident,” Archie said.   

Finally, a trip to the drug store for adult diapers or pantiliners to have on hand is a great backup as well.

“That way they just happen to be there, so they can decide to use them or not, rather than have a whole conversation about it.”

“You can put forward some solutions in advance.”

A time of change

It can be difficult to see that your family member is aging, Archie added. This is a transitional time in our elderly parent’s life, and it may take time to get used to a new normal where your parent is depending on you for more care. She says it’s important to remember that incontinence is not inevitable or irreversible.  

“Your bladder is managed by muscles, just like everything else in your body,” she said. “Incontinence can be treated with pelvic floor exercises and usually a therapist can help with that, so that’s a great first step.” 

For ongoing urinary incontinence treatment, the DFree device can help its users feel more in control of their bladder. The small wearable piece of hardware uses ultrasound technology to send information about bladder fullness straight to the user’s device, alerting them when it’s time to go. 

Archie adds that mindset is essential to supporting your elderly parents if they are dealing with incontinence.

“Your loved one is still your loved one, don’t treat them like a child,” she said. “The more respectful you are, the less pushback you’ll get about making certain changes. That’s the number one thing I hear: kids and grandkids are well-meaning, but they’re treating them like a kid, and they want to make their own decisions.”

“Your loved one is still your loved one.”