Dealing with Incontinence

“How do I talk to Mom and the family about the accidents she has been having lately around the house since her stroke?”

It is always difficult to talk to family about personal issues. The issue of incontinence is an extremely personal and embarrassing issue for people to discuss, let alone face that it is happening to them. In talking to others about incontinence, you have to understand what it is.

Incontinence is the inability for the person to control urinary and fecal output. There are varying types of incontinence. There are some people that have to go to the bathroom all the time. There are others whose bladders become over full and leak. Yet there are still others who simply cannot make it to the bathroom in time because of physical or mental reasons. Finally, there are those who have accidents only at night. These are all types of incontinence.

Stress that Incontinence is not the Stroke Victim’s Fault

In talking to the family about incontinence, it is important to emphasize that this condition is extremely common following a stroke. Many people feel that bowel and bladder functions are personally controllable and failure to do so is the fault of the person suffering. This is not true and must be emphasized to avoid placing feelings of guilt and shame on the family member with the problem. The family must also not feel ashamed or embarrassed to be around the suffering member. In many cases, incontinence is a byproduct of stroke and must be dealt with by everyone who has close connections or interactions with the stroke survivor.

Trying to talk to the person suffering from incontinence can be an embarrassing experience for everyone. This is especially true in cultures were the sufferer is the leader of the family. If Grandma does not want to talk about the problems she is having making it to the bathroom in time, we as a family, will not talk about it. Instead, the family will try to accommodate the problem. We will ask Grandma if she has to go to the bathroom more often, put plastic on chairs she sits in, cut down on trips outside of the home, or limit the time of outside trips. None of these actions actually solve the problem though, nor do they help people understand what they are going through. Instead it creates a cloud of shame and embarrassment that follows the sufferer wherever they go.

Talk Openly About the Problem

Approaching the situation in a direct way avoids embarrassment for all parties involved. Start the conversation off by saying “…we’ve all noticed that you are having accidents when trying to get to the bathroom…” This will help open the lines of communication and create a more relaxed atmosphere for discussion.

The list below contains some suggestions on what can be done to help the stroke survivor feel more comfortable about their condition and have the condition appear less noticeable.

  • Understand that accidents happen and are unavoidable
  • Purchase a bedside commode for the bedroom
  • Place bedside commode in closet during the day to prevent others from seeing it
  • Purchase waterproof pads and place underneath bed sheets
  • Purchase furniture covers to place over waterproof pads or plastic on furniture frequently used by the stroke patient
  • Keep a set of clean garments in all bathrooms
  • Purchase car seat covers to hide blue pads in vehicles
  • Allow extra travel time for more frequent bathroom stops
  • Use disposable undergarments
  • Bring a small tote bag with extra clothes in it for long shopping trips
  • Keep an extra set of clothes in the car for emergencies
  • Keep an extra set of clothes at homes of frequently visited family and friends
  • Keep hand wipes and liquid sanitizer nearby at all times