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Posted October 5, 2006

Ask An Expert

Elderly Behavior: Handling Elderly Incontinence Effectively

Q. My mom is incontinent and wears adult diapers all day and night, with plastic pants at night. This incontinence is my biggest frustration because she keeps getting up to go to the bathroom but doesn't do anything in the toilet. Then, she goes back to her chair and wets. This is only happening with her urine; it seems she knows when to go for her bowels or does it while urinating in the toilet when I put her on first thing in the morning.

This is driving me crazy, but I can't let her stay wet because her skin is sensitive and breaks down. I always use a diaper cream and Vaseline sometimes, too, for her skin. Please give me some advice or tips on what to do. She has advanced Alzheimer’s but is still healthy enough for me to keep at home. I retired to take care of my dad when he was on dialysis, but when he passed away we found my mom was worse with her dementia. She's 85 and a happy, healthy person.

Loretta M., Somerset, MA

A. You may know by now that this is a common problem for Alzheimer's patients, but it is manageable! Chances are that your mother is unable to perceive internal signals for urination.

The best solution is to get ultra-organized, and try to minimize the amount of time she may be in a wet adult diaper.

Many caregivers opt to try a consistent every-two-hour approach, taking their loved one to the bathroom every two hours regardless of when they last urinated. This way, with patience and consistency the bladder becomes "trained," so to speak. This may cut down on the amount of incontinence during the day.

Here are some tips from other caregivers that may be useful:    

There is nothing easy about caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease, but hopefully some of these tips will help. I would also suggest finding a local Alzheimer's disease support group. Many provide sitting services at the location of the meeting, so you can bring your mother along with you. The other members of the support group may have some fantastic tips and hints about managing 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. Valerie’s website is www.4seniorsathome.com. She can be reached . She can be reached at vvanbooven@yahoo.com.)

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