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How to care for someone with incontinence
While most Australians will know someone who is affected by incontinence, harmful stigmas and misconceptions around the condition mean that sufferers can end up feeling isolated and unable to enjoy life in the same way they once did.
With the right support and management techniques, however, incontinence doesn’t have to come at the expense of a fulfilling life. Many people with this condition enjoy socialising, traveling, exercising, and having a healthy sex life, proving that life doesn’t end with incontinence.
Starting the conversation
The first step to breaking the stigma surrounding incontinence is to talk about it. While this might sound simple at first, the topic can feel awkward or embarrassing - both for people living with the condition and their carers. Despite the initial discomfort, starting the conversation is incredibly important for both the mental and physical well-being of your loved one.
According to a recent industry survey by ConfidenceClub, 78% of people believe incontinence affects their mental health in some way with 12% of people believing it has a high impact on their emotional wellbeing. Speaking openly about the topic can be the first step to helping your loved one manage or even improve their condition.
If you think someone you love may have continence issues, there are a few important things to consider before bringing up the conversation.
- Choose the right time and place. This should be somewhere private where your loved one feels relaxed and comfortable, and where you can talk without disruptions and distractions.
- Use language that is sensitive and respectful. Remember that incontinence is an issue shrouded in shame, so your loved one will likely feel vulnerable speaking about it openly. Think about what you want to say before you have the conversation and avoid words that may be embarrassing or offensive.
- Approach the conversation with empathy and understanding. Give your loved one space to explain their experiences and feelings if they feel comfortable doing so. Some people won't want to discuss the issue straight away, so be patient and willing to have the talk when they're ready.
- Share your concerns with your loved one and let them know you want to help them through the process. Offer support and let them know there are treatments and proven ways of managing incontinence.
"Incontinence affects the day-to-day lives of one in four Australians, including 38% of women and 10% of men"
Embracing Social Continence
Due to the stigma and shame surrounding the condition, maintaining an active social life can be difficult for people living with incontinence. According to a recent industry survey by ConfidenceClub, more than 80% of people say that incontinence impacts their social life in some way, while more than 16% say it has a high impact. However, with proper management and prepration, it is entirely possible to manage incontinence while living an active, fullfilling lifestyle.
Learning how to be socially continent through careful preparation and management can help take the stress and anxiety out of socialising, exercising, or traveling with continence issues. Not only can this make day-to-day life much easier and more enjoyable, but it reduces further risk of mental and physical health problems that can make incontinence even harder to manage.
When planning for a socially continent outing, be sure to consider the following:
- Be sure to plan ahead. Prior to leaving for a social outing, check where the nearest restrooms are so you can help your loved one easily access them if needed.
- Wear the right clothing. Think about what will allow your loved one to get changed quickly and in small spaces while still feeling comfortable during the social outing.
- Pack extra supplies. To ensure you and your loved one have peace of mind ensure you have enough continence supplies - such as pads, disposable catheters, wipes, and gloves - for the duration of the outing and add one extra set in case of an emergency.
- If comfortable, communicate your needs to your traveling partners. This may include the need for extra rest stops or easy bathroom access.
Intimacy doesn't have to end with incontinence
When you live with continence issues, intimacy can be an emotionally and physically challenging experience. While feelings of discomfort, shame, stress, and insecurity can surface during sex, incontinence doesn't need to stop a healthy and fulfilling sex life.
With the right management strategies, it is possible to enjoy intimacy and sexual function despite the challenges of incontinence. A great first step is to have a conversation with your sexual partner about what sex with incontinence looks like for you. Communicating your needs ensures your partner knows how to help you enjoy intimacy from both a physical and mental standpoint. This can be as straightforward as communicating the need to use the bathroom immediately before being intimate, or opening up
about the emotional challenges that come with sex.
If your sexual partner is incontinent, it's also important to understand how you can best support them during sex. Discovering positions that reduce pressure on the bladder are one of the best ways to manage continence issues, as it will provide your partner with better bladder control. Pelvic floor exercises can also help to improve bladder and bowel control by strengthening the muscles in the area.
By working with your loved one to manage their incontinence during sex, you will not only help them to manage the physical symptoms but will give them the space and confidence to enjoy intimacy in a way that works for them.
Managing incontinence day-to-day
A common misconception about incontinence is that the condition cannot be improved or managed with lifestyle changes. This myth only fuels the shame and embarrassment surrounding continence issues and contributes to the sense of isolation many people feel when dealing with incontinence.
The truth is that most people who experience incontinence can improve their condition with a series of habits and lifestyle changes.
As a carer or loved one of someone with incontinence, it's a great idea to familiarise yourself with simple yet effective habits that will allow them to better manage and alleviate their condition.
Examples of simple yet effective continence management techniques include:
- Reducing additional pressure on the bladder by maintaining a healthy weight.
- Increasing dietary fiber intake to prevent chronic constipation and reduce the chances of urinary and fecal incontinence
- Limiting urinary tract stimulants like caffeine and alcohol to prevent excessive urine production.
- Staying hydrated in order to prevent the urinary tract from irritation.
- Improving bladder control through the use of regular exercise. This is particularly true for pelvic floor exercises, which play a big part in maintaining our urinary tract health and control.
- Quitting smoking, which lowers the risk of health conditions affecting the bladder and bowl that can lead to further incontinence.
With incontinence affecting millions of Australians across all demographics, it's essential that we break the stigma by leading with education and conversation. By understanding the experiences of those living with the condition and supporting them with effective management techniques, we can empower people to live a life they love, despite their incontinence.