Bringing up the topic of incontinence with a loved one can be fraught with angst and awkwardness.
Incontinence itself is a very common condition, affecting people of all ages. Recent data from the Continence Foundation of Australia suggests that one in three adult Australians are affected by incontinence.
The Continence Foundation’s survey also discovered that 62% of people with incontinence never seek professional help. Often, embarrassment or anxiety about the issue can stop people from seeking help for incontinence. Without assistance or treatment, incontinence can reduce the quality of life for sufferers and cause social isolation and even depression. Providing emotional support through this difficult time can be encouraging, often giving that extra prompt needed to seek professional advice.
What causes incontinence?
Incontinence can be caused by a variety of things, including surgery, disability or even some medications. Incontinence could be related to lack of mobility from painful arthritis (functional incontinence), a side-effect of prostate surgery (urge incontinence) or a weak pelvic floor (stress incontinence).
Have you noticed a change?
You might have noticed that a loved one has started to limit how much water, coffee or tea they drink. They might not be coming out to social gatherings, instead opting to stay in the security of their home. If you suspect a loved one is dealing privately with incontinence, how can you raise your concerns and help them feel supported?
Firstly, let’s begin by stating the obvious: this is not going to be an easy conversation.
It will likely be emotional, awkward and uncomfortable. There are, however, some ways to prepare for this difficult conversation.
Recognise what incontinence might mean to them
To your loved one, incontinence might mean the loss of their independence and can cause feelings of isolation. Be empathetic and patient, and try to understand the issue from their perspective.
Try to relate, if you can
If you’ve experienced some form of incontinence in the past, such as stress incontinence after childbirth, or urge incontinence after surgery, it might be helpful to relate to this experience when you’re trying to raise the issue with a loved one. Sharing your experience could encourage them to feel more comfortable that they aren’t alone in experiencing this issue.
Be careful with timing
Don’t raise the issue when your loved one might be distracted, busy or already stressed. Difficult conversations are generally made more difficult if the setting is already tense or awkward. Try to pick a time when your loved one is in a place where they feel relaxed, safe and secure – perhaps at home or at a favourite park or garden.
Anticipate their reaction
Each of us reacts to stressful situations differently. If you’ve had difficult conversations in the past, try to anticipate how they might react to you raising incontinence with them. Thinking ahead about how they might handle this conversation could help you plan for how you can reduce their discomfort.
Be matter-of-fact and don’t avoid the issue
Don’t cover up the issue with ambiguous language. Incontinence is a medical issue that requires treatment or management with professional help and advice. It might be an uncomfortable topic to talk about, but you’re not doing them any favours by dodging the issue.
Allow them to take the lead
This is going to be a hard topic to talk about. Be patient with your loved one and let them take the lead. If you get the feeling that it’s not a good time, or they’re getting defensive or stressed, close off the conversation until another time.
Encourage professional advice
The aim of the conversation should not be to get them to instantly start wearing incontinence aids such as pads, guards or absorbent underwear. Your only goal should be to raise the issue respectfully, and encourage them to seek professional advice from their GP, a nurse or care worker.
Suggest an in-home consultation or assessment
An in-home assessment from an Aged Care Assessment Team can help to identify how your loved ones care needs can be met while living at home. This might be an easier way to raise your concerns while showing your support for their desire to stay in their own home for as long as possible. As well as assistance with managing incontinence, your loved one could be eligible for assistance with cleaning or grocery shopping, physiotherapy or in-home nursing through the Commonwealth Home Support Program, the Home Care Package or another package through the National Disability Insurance Scheme.