Caregiver's Home Companion Caring for someone who has trouble hearing the phone?

Posted April 25, 2005

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Elderly Behavior: Incontinent But Avoids Adult Diapers

Q. My mother-in-law lost her husband seven years ago. She came to live with my husband and me after realizing she could not safely live in her own home several states away. This decision was made after lots of family discussion with other siblings, their agreement, and offers of help to care for her. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's six years ago. Sibling support went away. My husband and I have cared for her, with me as her primary caregiver.

My problem is her lack of bladder control and not wanting to wear Depends. She fights this, has accidents on the floor, and the odor is terrible. Any suggestions on how I can get her to wear the Depends?

Carolyn P., Wichita, Kansas

A. Incontinence can be caused by many factors including medications, stress, a physical condition, the environment, the person.s clothing or constipation. If the incontinence appears to be new problem, it is a good idea to consult a doctor to rule out potential medical causes.

Monitor your mother's incontinence and develop a routine. Take her to the bathroom every two hours. Instead of asking her if she needs to use the bathroom, say "let's go to the bathroom".

You might also consider plastic outer pants, and/or getting rid of all her normal underwear. There are also large pads that can be used instead of Depends. Finally, if you shop around you will find some undergarments that may be less bulky than traditional Depends, and have the feel and look of normal underwear.

Listen for trigger words and observe behavior that may indicate her need to use the restroom. Fidgeting, restlessness, facial expressions, etc.

If you can start on a regular routine of visiting the bathroom every two hours, this may be extremely helpful.

Click here for more information on handling incontinence.

(This answer is provided by Valerie VanBooven, a registered nurse, professional geriatric care manager, author, and professional speaker. She is a leading expert on long-term care planning and crisis management. Valerie is president of Senior Care Solutions, a private geriatric care management practice in the St. Louis area. Her books include Aging Answers: Secrets to Successful Long-Term Care Planning, Caregiving, and Crisis Management. She can be reached at

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