Caring for the incontinent

Caring for someone with urinary incontinence

Incontinence is not just a problem for older people or people with disability. Despite this, people from these two groups are at greater risk of developing bladder control problems. This could be because of poor mobility (ability to get around), memory problems and chronic health problems such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, dementia and multiple sclerosis.

The most important thing to remember when caring for someone with urinary incontinence is that it is not ‘normal’ or ‘inevitable’. Options for preventing, treating, managing and curing incontinence are available, so it is very important to seek professional help sooner rather than later.

Where to seek help

If the person you are caring for has urinary incontinence, the most important step for you to take is to seek professional help. The National Continence Helpline 1800 33 00 66 is a free and confidential service available to anyone living in Australia. The Continence Helpline is staffed by continence nurse advisors, who can provide you with practical information and advice. The Continence Helpline can provide you with wide range of information as well as the contact details of a continence service located close to the person you are caring for.

Continence assessment 

The first step required to effectively manage a person’s incontinence is a professional continence assessment. A continence assessment helps identify the type and cause of the person’s urinary incontinence. Once your continence health practitioner has this knowledge they will be able to tailor an individualized management strategy for you to use. The best management strategies also consider the living environment and lifestyle choices of both, the person being cared-for and their caregiver.

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You can help your doctor or continence nurse advisor in making an accurate assessment and diagnosis by providing as much information as possible. Prior to seeing the health professional, collect the following information:

  1. Keep a 3-day urine bladder diary, that specifies the toileting habits of the person in your care.  You can download a bladder diary by clicking on the link, Treatments of Incontinence.
  2. In addition to the bladder diary, it is also important that you document the following information about the person’s urinary incontinence:
  • Behaviours or activities that immediately preceeded any episodes of wetness.
  • Location: where the person experiences problems with bladder control – for example: bedroom, stairway, away from home, etc
  • Any bowel difficulties such as constipation or diarrhoea
  • Any changes in diet or fluid intake
  • A list of all prescribed and over-the-counter medications the person takes.
  • It is also important to let the doctor or continence nurse advisor know if the person’s episodes of incontinence have recently become worse.

What you can do

There are a range of management options available to people with urinary incontinence, which largely depend on the type of incontinence they have and outcomes the person hopes to achieve. Depending on the person’s needs a good continence management plan will consist of several key elements:

  • An adequate daily fluid intake, usually between 1500-2000ml 
  • A well balanced, fibre rich diet that prevents constipation 
  • A program of pelvic floor muscle exercises 
  • A review of all the medications the person takes

The practitioner may then suggest:

  • A bladder retraining program
  • A toileting program

  • The prescription of consumables that may include disposable or washable continence pads, external male (condom) catheters, an indwelling or intermittent catheterisation.

Practical tips while waiting for assistance from a continence nurse advisor, continence physiotherapist or your medical specialist.

 Bladder problems:

  • Find a disposable continence pad that will keep the person’s clothing or bedding dry for up to six hours
  • If the person’s urinary incontinence is a new problem or their incontinence has recently become worse visit your GP to make sure it is not a urinary tract infection.
  • If the person is unable to pass any urine, see your doctor immediately or attend your local accident and emergency department. 
  • If the person you are caring for has no medical condition that requires a restricted fluid intake, ensure the person is drinking 1500-2000ml of fluid spread evenly throughout the day

 Bowel problems:

  • If the person you care for experiences a change in their bowel habits, see your GP. Remember, constipation can alter a person’s bladder control
  • Keep the person’s skin clean from any faecal leakage or soiling. If faeces are left on a person’s skin, even for a little time it will very quickly make their skin very red and sore. Use a good barrier cream to protect the person’s skin from bowel leakage. You can ask your local pharmacy to recommend a good protective barrier cream or spray.
  • See your doctor if the person you are caring for has diarrhoea for more than 24 hours
  • Wear disposable gloves (available from supermarkets or chemists) to protect yourself and others from the bacteria in faeces
  • Even if you wear gloves, wash your hands carefully after you have had any contact with bodily fluids such as urine or faeces

Carers and incontinence

Many carers find caring for a person who has urinary or faecal incontinence to be a very confronting aspect. Incontinence can be unpredictable, dramatically increase your workload and be very costly to manage. Trying to cope alone leaves many carers reporting feelings of frustration, loneliness, and anger. It is not easy to provide care for a person with incontinence, but in seeking and receiving good advice and support from a health professional will make the situation much more manageable.

For more helpful information about caring for your loved one, read our Carer Tips and Hints fact sheet.

Who to contact for advice and support 

  • For information and advice about bladder and bowel problems contact the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66
  • For advice and support relating to caring, contact the State or territory Commonwealth Carers Resource Centres on 1800 242 636
  • A useful website link to your state or territory Carers Association Carers Australia is www.carersaustralia.com.a

Kimberly-Clark Australia makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. This information should be used only as a guide and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

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