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Four ways to cope with incontinence and dementia when you’re away from home

Try not to let worries about incontinence keep you and your loved one from going out and enjoying yourselves. Find out how to ease your fears and cope with incontinence

Incontinence is a fairly common symptom of dementia, particularly as the illness progresses. But although it can be very upsetting and provoke strong emotions such as shame, embarrassment and helplessness, there are ways to stop incontinence from limiting your life.

Here’s your 4 step plan:

1. Plan ahead

When you’re organising a trip out with a person who has dementia, it’s always best to think ahead. Whether you’re going to the supermarket or for a day at the sea, work out where the nearest toilets are located and how easy they are to access, especially if mobility is an issue. If you’re planning a full day out remember to build in enough time for a few trips to public toilets.

2. Prepare

Incontinence pads and pants are discreet and comfortable and there’s lots of choice, from disposable pads to washable pants, so if the person you’re caring for is likely to have an accident, or simply gets stressed by the idea of having an accident, it’s worth using them as a preventative measure, particularly if you’re going somewhere you haven’t been before (and don’t know where the toilets are) or somewhere that’s likely to be busy.

• Don’t forget to also pack cleaning wipes, barrier creams, bags to put soiled products in and extra underwear to ensure your loved one feels fresh and comfortable for the rest of the day.

3. Prevent

In an ideal world, it’s better for you, and the person you’re caring for, if you can reach a toilet in time. However, if their dementia is making it more difficult for them to communicate the need directly, try:

• Watching their body language; pacing up and down, pulling at clothes or fidgeting are all signs that they may need the loo.
• Asking regularly, ‘would you like to go to the loo?’ Even if they’re bladder is strong, they’ll probably need to go at least every couple of hours.
• Buying a RADAR key which will allow you to open around 9000 accessible toilets in the UK which are usually locked to the general public. Prices vary but they generally cost less than £5.
• Getting a ‘Just can’t wait card’ from The Bladder and Bowel Foundation, which should allow you to jump queues for public toilets. (These are free but you might be asked to make a £5 donation).

4. Don’t Panic

If, despite all your efforts, the person with dementia still has an accident, try not to get irritated with them. Remember, it isn’t their fault and providing they were wearing a pad, it shouldn’t cause them too much distress, and won’t take too long to sort out. Reassure them that it isn’t a big deal. Try saying something calming such as, ‘Accidents happen and there’s no harm done.’ Take them to a loo (preferably a disabled toilet so you can both get in comfortably) and help them get cleaned up. Keep reminding them it isn’t their fault and not to let it spoil the day out.

• Don’t limit fluids – dehydration could make them even more confused or put them at risk of developing a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).
• Do run them a bubble bath when you get home and encourage them to have a good soak. It will relax them and should also help to get rid of any lingering, unpleasant odours.

Good to know

If the person you care for seems to be having more accidents than they would normally, it’s worth investigating other reasons for it, rather than simply assuming their dementia is the cause and there’s nothing you can do. For example, Urinary Tract Infections (UTI’s) can increase the likelihood and frequency of incontinence. Discover some other causes of incontinence here.