Tips For Dealing With Incontinence In Alzheimer's Patients
If you're a caretaker for someone with Alzheimer's disease, incontinence episodes may be something you're dealing with. Here are some strategies to help you handle the problem effectively, kindly, and in a way that will make life more comfortable for everyone.
When you first notice incontinence in someone with Alzheimer’s, the first action you need to take is to make an appointment with the person’s doctor. Urinary tract infections, post-stroke conditions, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease can all contribute mightily to the problem. Even if the person you’re caring for is resistant to going to the doctor, it’s worth insisting on. If a medical cause is identified, it can be treated, which may result in fewer incontinence episodes – and that’s in everyone’s best interest.
In addition to medical problems, other factors can contribute to incontinence in people with Alzheimer’s. Sometimes, it’s as simple as the person having a hard time getting to the toilet. Put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re caring for as much as you can, and consider the route to the bathroom from other places in their living space – is there furniture which is hard to navigate around? Is there anything which the person could potentially trip on, including throw rugs? Is it a long distance, especially from the bedroom? Do what you can to make the route completely clear, including re-arranging furniture and removing optional decor items if necessary. If the bathroom is more than a few steps from the bedroom, it’s well worth investing in a portable commode to keep at the bedside for nighttime use.
People with Alzheimer’s sometimes have difficulty remembering where the bathroom is and identifying the toilet, which can lead to incontinence episodes and other elimination challenges. Again, it helps to put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re caring for as much as you can, and consider what changes you can make in their home to reduce confusion. For starters, draw as much attention to the toilet as necessary. Sometimes, this is as easy as leaving the bathroom door open so the toilet’s in plain sight. If the bathroom is down a hall or otherwise not in the person’s line of sight, it may by helpful to post simple directional signs. If leaving the door open isn’t practical, post a picture of a toilet on the bathroom door.
People with Alzheimer’s sometimes have accidents because they can’t identify the toilet once they’re in the bathroom. It can be very helpful to draw attention to the toilet by placing a brightly colored cover on the lid. In some cases, it’s a good idea to remove items from the bathroom or the home in general which might be mistaken for toilets, including wastebaskets, hampers, and large potted plants.
It’s important to safeguard against accidents by choosing clothing and supplies for the person which will help make accidents easier for everyone to deal with. Clothing which is durably machine washable and very easy to pull on and off are sensible choices. And the benefit of using incontinence undergarments like pads and briefs cannot be stressed enough. If the person’s incontinence is light, and they’re fairly able, pads may be an option, but often briefs are more practical. If they resist the idea, bring them a pair “just to try,” so they can see for themselves how comfortable these garments are. It may also be helpful to place a mattress protector under the person’s bedding, to make cleaning up nighttime accidents much easier.
One of the most important aspects of successfully dealing with this problem in people with Alzheimer’s is how you communicate with each other. Do everything you can to let them retain their dignity, and respect their need for privacy when at all possible. And be aware that they may not verbally communicate their needs – be aware of facial expressions, fidgeting, tugging at clothing, or other body language which means they need to use the toilet, or may have had an accident. When accidents happen, don’t scold, talk down, or use childish euphamisms for elimination – be straightforward, matter-of-fact, and most of all, kind.
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