Incontinence is a condition that is often difficult for a person to accept and deal with. Many seniors try to ignore this new development and carry on with their lives, but a head-in-the-sand approach usually draws more attention to the problem. There are ways to encourage a loved one to address this issue, but they require patience, understanding and a commitment to upholding your loved one’s dignity.
Pro Tip: Strike the Word Diaper from Your Vocabulary
“My parent won’t wear adult diapers and it drives me nuts!”
This is a common complaint from family caregivers whose loved ones are suffering from incontinence, and I absolutely sympathize. However, one glaring piece of this sentence stands out to me: the word “diaper.”
Figuring out how to talk to elderly parents about incontinence is difficult. The first thing I urge caregivers to do when tackling this sensitive topic is to think carefully about their word choices. Seniors often rebel against the word “diaper” as an adult of any age would—and for good reason. This term is typically associated with babies or toddlers who have yet to be toilet trained. What adult would take kindly to the word when it’s applied to them?
To take it one step further, think about this. If you are a middle-aged woman who has had children, you have probably suffered from stress incontinence occasionally, meaning that you’ve leaked a little urine while coughing, sneezing, or laughing. Perhaps you’ve even used a panty protector just in case. How would you feel if your husband or friend referred to this little protection as a diaper?
Bottom line: diapers are for babies. No adult, regardless of their level of physical or mental disability, should be treated as though they are a baby. Aging and age-related conditions already rob our loved ones of much of their independence and dignity. Our word choices and tone of voice may not seem that important but communicating and providing care in ways that help our loved ones feel dignified is a game-changer—especially when it comes to promoting cooperation and boosting self-esteem.
This may seem like nitpicking, but please refer to incontinence products with age-appropriate terms. Think along the lines of briefs, pads, underpants, pull-ups, the actual brand name (e.g., Depends)—anything you want. Just make the word respectful and you’ll have mastered the first step toward getting a senior to wear incontinence wear. I ask you to do this not only for the elder but also for yourself. Using respectful words will help remind you that you are caring for an adult who deserves to be treated as such.
Read: “Elderspeak” Can Be Detrimental to Seniors’ Mental and Physical Health
Determine the Cause of Incontinence
I’m aware that just changing the words you use isn’t going to completely solve the problem. When incontinence becomes even an occasional issue, it’s important for your loved one to see their doctor about it. It may be caused by something straightforward, such as a urinary tract infection (UTI) or an overactive bladder (OAB), or a more serious underlying issue like prostate problems in men or pelvic organ prolapse (POP) in women.
Most likely, you’ve taken your elder to the doctor to address the issue. After testing to
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