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Supporting Our Caregivers

Combating Incontinence: It’s Time to Get Practical

Cheryl B. Gartley

Founder and President, The Simon Foundation for Continence

Incontinence affects millions of older adults, but can be hard to manage as family caregivers. Here are key ways to stay focused on what matters.

Caregivers accept so many responsibilities — many rewarding, many challenging. Often most challenging is providing assistance with urinary incontinence (UI) and/or fecal incontinence (FI). Over 200 million individuals worldwide experience UI, and an estimated 8.3 percent of adults will experience FI at some point. The intimate nature of incontinence causes issues of diagnosis, treatment, and management to be kept quietly “in the closet.” It’s time to pull back the curtain and talk about some practical approaches. 

The beginnings of incontinence

UI has many possible causes. Although older individuals are disproportionately affected, incontinence is always caused by something else going on in the body. For this reason, the first step is locating a physician who is interested in and knowledgeable about diagnosing and treating incontinence.

In the event that the condition cannot be alleviated medically, the weight of incontinence care can become overwhelming without the benefit of resources that may well be available, but not easy to find. Added to other burdens of caregiving, incontinence is often the tipping point to nursing home admission. But with persistent hunting, you will find that some unexpected help is available.

Where to find help

First, research and the internet are your friends — there are many continence management products that cannot be found on retail shelves. The websites for The Simon Foundation for Continence and Continence Product Advisor are good places to start your search. Covering topics such as reimbursement and insurance, product types, and how to choose products, the sites will lead you to find an array of materials you may never have imagined.

Second, visit some home health stores, and find a salesperson who understands the issues and products to ask questions to. If you find products in store that you’d like to try, often those companies will send free samples from their online stores, which keeps the costs of exploring new products and options low.

Diagnosis, treatment, and a well-suited management product can also definitely ease the burden of care. But tackling communication between caregivers and those being cared for often remains challenging. Distraction, good humor, and a matter-of-fact approach can help move the focus from the physical body to companionable interaction. For peer support, visit the Simon Foundation’s online support group on Health Unlocked.

We can all help lessen the impact of incontinence by trying to minimize the stigma surrounding incontinence. Visit and to learn more.

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