Home Care Helps Seniors Manage Incontinence
Though it is a subject few people openly discuss, millions of senior Americans are living with urinary incontinence, a troublesome problem that, if not managed, can lead to infection, isolation, falls, inactivity and an overall decline in health.
A Problem With Many Causes
It is sad to know that embarrassment keeps many seniors from seeking help for urinary incontinence. A senior loved one's incontinence also can present a challenge to family caregivers—so much so that incontinence is a major reason for nursing home placement. Yet the truth is, quite often urinary incontinence can be treated. The first step is a thorough medical evaluation to determine the cause of the problem. There are four major types of incontinence:
Stress incontinence means that urine leaks from the bladder when a person laughs, coughs, exercises or lifts something heavy. It is caused by physical changes in the muscles of the pelvic floor. This type is most common in women.
Urgency incontinence, sometimes called "overactive bladder," happens when the bladder begins to empty itself suddenly, perhaps when the person thinks about going to the bathroom or hears running water. It can be caused by damage to the nerves or by irritation from infection or certain foods.
Overflow incontinence happens when small amounts of urine leak from a bladder that doesn't empty completely. It results from nerve damage, scar tissue, an obstruction caused by a condition such as constipation or, in men, an enlarged prostate.
Functional incontinence means that a person's physical or mental disabilities keep them from being able to get to the toilet in time. This could be due to mobility problems, such as the effects of stroke, arthritis or osteoporosis. People with Alzheimer's disease or related conditions may be confused when looking for the bathroom and negotiating clothing.
Many times, incontinence results from a combination of the above types.
Can Incontinence Be Treated?
Treatment for incontinence depends on the type and cause. In some cases, the doctor will recommend surgery. But often, lifestyle changes, pelvic exercises, medications or nonsurgical medical treatments are effective. The home environment can be improved with modifications such as a raised toilet seat, grab bars or a bedside commode. Adaptive clothing with elastic and Velcro help seniors who have difficulty with zippers and buttons.
Even when these treatments and lifestyle changes aren't completely effective, today's incontinence care products help preserve the senior’s quality of life. Working together, seniors, their healthcare team and family members can manage incontinence.
The Support of Home Care
Many families today take advantage of in-home care services to keep their senior loved ones safe and well cared for at home. In-home caregivers provide assistance with personal care, housekeeping, meal preparation, supervision and companionship. And when a senior is dealing with the challenges of incontinence, in-home care can be a tremendous support resource, helping preserve dignity and self-esteem. When it comes to this sensitive issue, many seniors are far more comfortable with the assistance of a professional. In-home caregivers provide:
- Support for medical treatments. Medical treatment for incontinence might include surgery, biofeedback or medical devices. In-home caregivers transport clients to health appointments and help them follow their doctor's advice at home. If medications are prescribed, caregivers can pick up prescriptions at the pharmacy and provide medication reminders, also reporting any side effects.
- Supervision of home behavioral therapies. In-home caregivers provide reminders and encouragement as clients follow the healthcare provider's lifestyle instructions. Patients may be advised to perform exercises of the pelvic floor muscle, most often the familiar Kegel series. The doctor also may recommend scheduling and keeping track of bathroom trips. "Bladder training" helps patients improve strength in bladder muscles and increase bladder capacity. If dietary changes are prescribed, the caregiver can prepare meals that help clients maintain a healthy weight and avoid foods and beverages that might be causing bladder irritation.
- Bathroom assistance. When physical or cognitive functional challenges make it hard for a senior client to get to the bathroom, trained in-home caregivers can help them to the toilet or assist with a bedside commode or bedpan. When a client has Alzheimer's disease or a related condition, trained caregivers provide reminders to use the toilet and are alert to signs that the person may need to go to the bathroom. Caregivers also help keep a clear path to the bathroom, removing obstacles that could cause a delay or even a fall.
- Help with incontinence products and hygiene. When incontinence cannot be completely managed with medical and lifestyle interventions, protective incontinence care products provide the security that allows clients to remain active and socially engaged. Today’s disposable, absorbent undergarments are inconspicuous and quite effective in masking incontinence. In-home caregivers can shop for these products, ensure proper hygiene, assist with bedding and skin care, and appropriately dispose of incontinence care products.
In-home care helps preserve dignity and quality of life for seniors who are dealing with incontinence. Family members also benefit when they can spend more time with their loved one doing the things they enjoy.
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