How To Manage Incontinence For The Elderly With Dementia


This article is evidence-based, verified by Dr. Ahmed Zayed.

Having a loved one with dementia is no easy task. Not only is their brain function affected, but dementia also has many physical side effects, such as incontinence. While this can be difficult to deal with, we’ve listed down how you can manage incontinence for the elderly with dementia.  

Incontinence, a loss of bladder control, is quite common in the later stages of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s. This physical side effect can be uncomfortable for both dementia patients and their loved ones. Loss of bladder control comes with a sense of shame and dignity. However, always remember that this is something the patient has no control over.  

Luckily, you can help manage incontinence for the elderly in the following ways:  

  • Open communication 
  • Easy access 
  • Changes in diet  
  • Use of aids  

Each of these ways to manage incontinence has been discussed in detail below. These methods are easy to follow and can go a long way to helping your loved ones!  

Methods To Manage Incontinence For The Elderly With Dementia 

Open Communication 

Make sure that you and the elderly person have open and honest communication with each other. You must encourage the patient to tell you whenever he/she needs to use the toilet so that you can come and help them. Some ways to ensure open communication are: 

  • Talking to them like an adult, and in a respectful tone.  
  • Look for nonverbal cues, such as restlessness or unusual facial expressions. 
  • Note down trigger words or phrases that indicate the patient needs to use the toilet. 
  • Consider setting up a bathroom schedule. For example, ask the patient every two hours if they need to go to the bathroom. 

Maintaining open communication becomes more difficult as dementia progresses. However, it’s one of the most vital ways to manage incontinence. 

Easy Access 

One of the best ways to manage incontinence is by ensuring that the patient can reach the toilet easily whenever they need to. Patients of dementia have a difficult time with day-to-day brain functions, so everyday tasks are difficult for them. This means you’ll have to take a few extra steps to make bathrooms accessible. These include: 

  • Ensure that there is no furniture blocking the path to the toilet. Remove anything that the patient may trip over. 
  • Keep the bathroom door open, so the toilet is visible. 
  • Make the bathroom stand out. You can place a brightly colored rug at the door or hang a bathroom sign at the door. 
  • Ensure that the pathway to the bathroom is well-lit, especially at night. For this, consider installing sensor lights so you can save electricity too.  
  • Remove anything that can be mistaken for a toilet, such as a wastebasket.  

Other than making sure that the path to the toilet is accessible, you can also make sure that the patient can use the bathroom easily. For example, by: 

  • Make sure that the bathroom is easy to use. You can install grab bars that make it easy for the patient to sit down and stand up from the toilet.  
  • If you can’t install grab bars, consider raising the toilet seat.  
  • Choose clothing that’s easier to take off in the bathroom. For example, choose pants with elastic waists over those with zips or buttons.  
  • If the dementia patient struggles with locks, make sure the bathroom door is easy to unlock from the outside as well.  

Changes in Diet 

Certain foods can increase the chances of incontinence in the elderly with dementia. While incontinence is a possible side-effect of dementia, a healthy diet can definitely strengthen bladder control and reduce the chances of accidents happening.  

Ensure that elderly patient of dementia:  

  • Avoid caffeine 
  • Don’t have carbonated drinks 
  • Avoid spicy foods 
  • Eat plenty of fiber  
  • Drink six to eight glasses of water every day 

In addition to these dietary changes, try to get the patient to exercise daily. This exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous; a short walk in the garden every day will also suffice.  

Use of Aids 

If incontinence gets out of control, then it’s a good idea to start using aids, such as absorbent products. These can include: 

  • Incontinence Pads 
  • Adult underwear 
  • Liners 

If you do begin to use any of these products, you must be very careful to change them regularly and keep the patient clean. These products expose the patient to moisture, which can cause a number of skin problems and could lead to infection. However, keeping the skin clean by using a cleanser and using powder to prevent overexposure to moisture are two easy ways of ensuring the skin stays safe.  

Ideally, the use of aids should be a last resort. Not only do they create skin problems, but they also motivate the patient to stop exercising any control over their bladder. Using aids can also be embarrassing for the patient.  

What Not To Do When Dealing With Incontinence  

As we said before, incontinence comes with feelings of shame and embarrassment. It’s no easy task to deal with, for you or the patient. Maintaining a good relationship between you and your loved one is vital if you want them to listen to you and follow your steps. 

Hence, here are some things you should avoid when dealing with an elderly dementia patient with inconsistency: 

  • Don’t make them feel guilty for an accident  
  • Don’t scold them if they have an accident. Instead, preserve their dignity by telling them that this behavior is normal in the later years of life.  
  • Don’t withhold fluids from them. This can cause dehydration and can lead to problems much more severe than incontinence, such as dehydration.  

While managing incontinence is not easy, it’s definitely possible as long as you’re patient and follows the steps we’ve mentioned above. 

For more information, check out the video by Natali Edmonds, a clinical psychologist below:

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed, MD holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. An avid contributor to the Huffington Post and Chicago Tribune, Dr. Zayed believes in providing accurate and accessible information to general readers. With years of writing and editing content in the medical niche, Dr. Zayed likes to think of himself as a man with a mission, keeping the internet free of false medical information.

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