There are many causes of urinary incontinence, a condition which tends to occur as the bladder muscle weakens and has more difficulty holding urine. Common physical changes resulting from the aging process, like reduced mobility, increase the time that it takes for your loved one to get to the bathroom, creating an additional challenge. Similarly, hospitalizations often increase incontinence due to the patient being restricted to bed.
While some causes of incontinence can be associated with the natural aging process, others may be common symptoms connected to diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s — especially in the later stages. As brainpower and memory decline and the disease progresses, awareness of bodily sensations like a full bladder and the corresponding memory of how, when and where to respond to this urge are hindered. Urinary tract infections are especially problematic in individuals living with dementia and can increase the difficulty of managing incontinence. Even though incontinence is regularly expected in the later stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s, it is often possible to address this issue before it becomes a problem.
We recommend consulting with your primary care physician to determine the actual cause of the incontinence so you can address the challenge appropriately. However, we also have included suggestions below to help you and your loved one manage incontinence, especially if dementia is the cause.
Drink More Water
Encouraging those with urinary incontinence to drink more water might sound counterproductive, but it can actually help them. Some people are tempted to drink less water and other liquids in general in order to reduce the need to urinate frequently. However, this can make their condition worse, since drinking less can result in urine that’s more concentrated and more irritating to the bladder. Drinking more water can be effective when it’s done correctly, which involves doing the following:
- Make sure your loved one isn’t drinking anything a few hours before bedtime and encourage a bathroom trip to fully empty the bladder before going to sleep for the night.
- Have your loved one drink between four to eight eight-ounce cups of plain water a day. It’s better to reach these amounts through frequent sipping instead of drinking one or two cups at a time, which can overwhelm the bladder.
We asked Brian Cooper, a Residential Home Health Occupational Therapist, to share some strategies that caregivers can use to help ensure their loved one regularly drinks water. Here are the tips that have helped many of his patients and their caregivers:
- Try flavored water. While there are several kinds available, please keep in mind that individuals with diabetes need sugar-free water. Propel offers Propel Zero as a sugar-free option.
- Does your loved one like juice? Try mixing in water to increase the intake of H2O.
- Be assertive! The urge to drink may diminish with age, so a gentle reminder to take a sip may be helpful.
- Name-drop. Your loved one may be more inclined to follow directions to drink water if you remind them that “the doctor said it was important.”
- Rethink your drink wear. An opaque, colored cup is easiest to see and an adult sippy-cup with a straw can assist with the actual process of drinking.
- Set a daily drink intake goal. Fill a pitcher with the necessary amount of water and make sure it is gone at the end of the day.
- Make sure there is not a physical challenge keeping your loved one from drinking. Once he or she has initiated the drinking process, do liquids go down correctly and without issue?
- Be creative. Did you know that foods like fruit have a high water content? Popsicles are a great alternative too!
Avoid Certain Beverages
Regardless of the exact causes of urinary incontinence in your loved one, plain water is the best choice when it comes to beverages. In order to manage this condition better, encourage your loved one to avoid or limit drinking certain beverages that can irritate the bladder; these include alcohol, citrus juices, milk and carbonated drinks and tea, coffee, or any other beverage with caffeine. Caffeine and alcohol are especially important to avoid, since they act as diuretics that increase urination.
Other Dietary Tips
If your loved one lives with incontinence, it is important to monitor food choices. Some foods can irritate the bladder and cause more urine leakage. Advise your loved one to cut down on or avoid the following foods:
- Oranges, grapefruit and other citrus fruits
- Spicy foods
- Tomatoes and tomato sauces
- Artificial sweeteners
In addition to avoiding or limiting foods that worsen incontinence, adding more fiber to the diet can be helpful. Getting more fiber from foods like brown rice, oatmeal, beans, broccoli and almonds or from supplements can help prevent constipation, which is especially troubling when paired with dehydration.
If you or a loved one are struggling with incontinence, download our helpful Dementia and Incontinence: Causes and Solutions guide below. This resource explains causes of incontinence, preemptive measures to avoid ‘accidents’ and what to do if incontinence should occur.
In addition, you might also consider the benefits of in-home therapy. Residential Home Health’s dementia care program, Mind Care, uses a clinical team approach incorporating medical social workers, nurses, as well as physical, occupational, and speech therapists as needed. Residential’s team provides caregiver support and education, strategies for living with dementia and keeping your loved one safe at home. The Mind Care program can help you understand incontinence and the options available to manage and improve the condition.
Talk with a nurse for free today about your specific situation at (866) 902-4000.