How to Prevent and Reduce Incontinence in Dementia

Preventing Incontinence/ Peter Cade Collection: The Image Bank /Getty Images.

Alzheimer's disease (or another type of dementia) plus incontinence can be a tough combination. While there's no easy fix, there are a few practical ways you can help prevent or reduce incontinence for your loved one.

  • Place a large picture of a toilet on the door of the bathroom.

    Your loved one might not remember which door leads to the bathroom, but it’s possible he will recognize a picture of a toilet. Pictures, rather than words, often serve as a clue to trigger the appropriate response.

  • Make sure there’s a night light in the bathroom.

    Sensory abilities such as vision and hearing may be compromised, either due to an actual impairment in those senses or due to an inability of the brain to interpret what is heard or seen. Adding a light to the bathroom can make the task of locating the bathroom a little easier.

  • Place glow-in-the-dark tape on the floor that leads to the bathroom.

    This can help direct your loved one to the toilet if she wakes up and is wandering around in the middle of the night looking for the bathroom.

  • Anticipate toileting needs.

    Rather than wait for your family member to ask for or look around for the bathroom, bring her to the bathroom and encourage her to use the bathroom before dinner or getting into the car.

  • Set up a toileting schedule.

    You can arrange a schedule for toileting your loved one. This doesn’t mean you won’t let him use the bathroom at other times; what it does mean is that at certain times of the day, you always guide or cue him to use the bathroom. That might result in you suggesting every two hours that he use the bathroom, or that every morning after breakfast you’ll offer her a commode. Scheduled toileting aims to determine her body’s usual times she may need to use the bathroom and catch it ahead of time. This increases her dignity and also makes your job easier.

  • Consider offering a commode or urinal.

    If your loved one continues to struggle with locating the bathroom at night, you may want to place a portable commode or urinal by his bed or in his room. The proximity and ease of use may be helpful.

  • Know the signs of a urinary tract infection.

    If your family member is suddenly more confused or upset, has a fever, complains that it hurts when she uses the bathroom or produces urine that has a strong foul odor, she may have a urinary tract infection (UTI). She might also struggle with more frequence incontinent if she has a urinary tract infection. It’s important to treat UTI’s so that the discomfort and confusion will be resolved. Usually, UTI's resolve fairly well after a course of antibiotics.

  • Don’t withhold fluids.

    While you don’t want to have someone drink so many fluids that their electrolytes are off balance, you also should not cut off their fluids in hopes that he won’t wet himself. Too few fluids can result in dehydration, as well as too high a concentration of the medications they take. You might want to reduce fluids in the evening, but don’t do this in a drastic measure or your loved one may end up in the hospital for dehydration.

  • Make sure clothing is easy to remove.

    If incontinence is something your loved one struggles with, you can make things a little easier by choosing clothing that is easy to remove or change. This will help him be able to quickly remove clothing to use the bathroom or make it easier to assist him in changing his clothing when needed.

  • Be hesitant to use a catheter.

    While indwelling catheters can eliminate accidents and protect the skin from breaking down from contact with urine, they also can increase the risk of a urinary tract infection. There are situations when a catheter is very appropriate, such as urinary retention (when someone’s bladder doesn’t empty fully) or in end stages of diseases to promote comfort. Catheters should be discussed with the physician to discuss the benefits and the risks.

  • Use adult briefs or incontinence pads to protect clothing and furniture.

    If your loved one with dementia is frequently incontinent and this doesn't change after consulting with a physician and implementing the above suggestions, you can purchase adult briefs (diapers) or pads to place under the person on a bed or a chair. Adult briefs can prevent an accident from being obvious to anyone else, and pads can make cleanup and laundry much easier.

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