Here’s how you can make a tough job a little easier.
The Urology Care Foundation reports that between a quarter and one-third of Americans suffer from incontinence.1 In those cases when the person is unable to care for themselves, a loved one often steps in to assist them. It can be a time-consuming and stressful responsibility, but it’s also an important one. If you’re one of the millions of people in the U.S. who provide unpaid care2 to a loved one, lean on these five tips for support.
1. Check with their physician.
Knowledge is power. Knowing the facts of the type and severity of your loved one’s incontinence lets you know the challenge you’re facing. By understanding what you need to do, you will be better equipped to provide the best care possible. You’ll also benefit by having their physician explain any other incontinence-related health conditions your loved one may have.
2. Make a plan, but be flexible.
Develop a daily routine that allows for some flexibility. That way, you can anticipate your loved one’s needs to the best of your ability. However, not all things tend to go according to plan when living with incontinence. Flexibility helps you manage expectations and reduce stress. Here are some key points to consider:
- Stay near a bathroom. When out and about, you’ll have a good idea of when your loved one will need to take a bathroom break. Sticking to your routine lets you be in close proximity to a bathroom when the time comes.
- Dress accordingly. Slacks with a belt may not be the best fashion choice if the incontinent person you’re caring for has frequent incidents. Looser-fitting clothes and pants with an elastic band are much easier to remove if you’re in a rush to make it to the bathroom, or if you need to change them into dry clothes.
- Eat at appropriate times. Schedule meals around what’s best for their incontinence needs. If they tend to have to go to the bathroom right before a meal then will have incidents right after eating, you may want to move mealtime up. It may reduce the chance of incidents.
3. Watch their diet.
When you’re caring for someone with incontinence, their diet can make a huge difference in the condition of their incontinence.3 Caffeine and alcohol increase bladder activity and artificial sweeteners have been shown to negatively affect bladder function. Cut back or completely eliminate these from your loved one’s diet to help improve bladder control. Here are some other items you may want to limit:3
- Carbonated beverages (soda, seltzer water)
- Milk/milk products
- Medicines with caffeine
- Citrus juice and fruits
- Corn syrup
- Spicy foods
You’ll also want to make sure they’re hydrated. Water is always best. Being hydrated can reduce the risk of bladder irritation and help lessen urine odors. Cranberry juice and cherry juice can also help with odors.3
4. Be prepared.
Having the right items for your loved one’s level of incontinence when you need them can make a huge difference for them and you. Here are a few items that can help you provide the best possible care.
- Stay dry. Overnight incidents happen, but your loved one’s night of restful sleep shouldn’t be disrupted when one occurs — and neither should yours. These underpads are hospital grade and provide four layers of protection against moderate to heavy leaks so skin stays dry. In bed, on the couch, in the car, wherever, disposable briefs protect your loved one’s skin and protect against leaks.
- Eliminate the odor. The odor from urinary or bowel incontinence is uncomfortable enough without the often overpowering smells of some air fresheners. Eliminate the odors with a plant-based formula that naturally neutralizes without merely masking the smell.
- Wipe away the mess. Stronger than toilet paper and cleaner than cloth towels, flushable wet wipes are durable yet also biodegradable.
- Protect and clean your For comfort and sanitary reasons, rubber exam gloves are good to have on hand when changing linens or cleaning your loved one following an incident. Hand sanitizer wipes are a convenient way to keep your hands clean. And since they’re formulated with aloe and vitamin E, they won’t just sanitize your hands, they’ll help soothe your skin.
5. Take care of yourself.
Caring for someone with incontinence is one of the most selfless acts of kindness one person can do for another. But it’s not without its costs. Specifically, the cost of the caregiver’s health. More than a third of caregivers suffer from poor health as a result of their caregiving duties.4 Caregivers are more likely than others to experience depression, and high levels of stress and frustration.4 Other health risks to caregivers include:
- Increase risk of cancers
- Physical pain
- Heart disease
- Higher mortality rate
These serious health risks are why taking care of yourself is so important. Here are a few ways you can practice self-care, too.
- Ask for help. Family and friends may offer to lend a hand. When they do, take it. You can focus on caring for your incontinent loved one while your friend or family member runs errands for you, does the dishes, cleans the house, whatever can make your caregiving responsibility a little more manageable. Another option is to look at professional services like respite care,5 which gives you a break by sending someone to your home for a few hours.
- Talk to someone. You’re doing a hard job. It’s hard work and it’s hard to see someone you care about struggle with incontinence. Keeping your feelings bottled up can lead to depression. Talk to a friend or coworker or a professional—anyone you trust. The important thing to remember is that you're not alone.
- Stay healthy. Prioritize a half hour a day a few days a week to exercise. Regular physical activity helps boost your mood, gives you more energy and even helps you sleep better.6 And speaking of… try to get at least eight hours of good sleep each night. You’ll also want to maintain a healthy diet. Since being mindful of your loved one’s diet is part of your responsibilities, plan a healthy diet for the both of you.
Self-care is not something you should ignore out of concern it’ll take away from providing care to your loved one. You’re only as good a caregiver as you are healthy.
Caring for someone with incontinence is a difficult job. It can dramatically change your life and negatively impact your own health. But it is also a remarkable and generous responsibility to take on. Following these five tips will put you in the best position to provide the best care.