What Is Incontinence?

Aging can be a difficult, delicate process.

As your parent or loved one gets older, you watch tasks that used to come easily for them slip away. You likely want to help them maintain their quality of life and keep their dignity at the same time.

A common issue many elderly face is bladder incontinence, though some also experience bowel incontinence.

Incontinence is a very personal topic, which can make it hard to discuss or come to terms with. The inability to control bladder or bowel movements can greatly compromise one’s dignity.

However, it’s important to note that incontinence is not the affected person’s fault. People can address this problem in an effective and dignified manner.

What Is Incontinence?

Bladder (or urinary) incontinence is the involuntary leaking of urine. The leaks may be in small or large amounts. Sometimes this can happen when you sneeze, cough, laugh, jump, or run.

Bladder leaks are common. According to the Urology Care Foundation, a quarter to a third of men and women in the U.S. suffer from urinary incontinence. Leaks are more likely to happen to older people and women who’ve been through childbirth.

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Factors that Cause Incontinence

Anything that weakens the pelvic muscles can lead to incontinence. Some common causes of urinary incontinence are:

  • Pregnancy.
  • Childbirth.
  • Menopause.
  • Gradual weakening of the pelvic floor. This occurs naturally in both men and women as they age.

Anything that causes urinary retention can lead to incontinence.

  • Stroke, multiple sclerosis, other neurologic impairment.
  • Certain medications.
  • An enlarged prostate gland.

Anything that decreases a person’s mobility can lead to incontinence just from not being able to reach the bathroom in time.

Anything that causes inflammation of the urinary tract can lead to incontinence.

  • Paralysis, weakness.
  • Arthritis.

Anything that causes inflammation of the urinary tract can lead to incontinence.

  • Infections.
  • Thinning of the genital tissues due to menopause.
  • Interstitial cystitis.

When Is It Time for Adult Diapers?

If you have persistent incontinence, you should talk to your PCP for an initial evaluation and possibly treatment. Sometimes, your PCP may recommend you see a urologist, as well. They can perform urodynamic testing to further clarify the cause of your leaks.

Sometimes, medicine or other treatments (ranging from dietary changes to surgery) can resolve the issue. But these can’t always reverse incontinence due to aging. It might be time to consider adult diapers.

Beginning to Wear Adult Diapers

The benefits of adult diapers include:

  • Comfort. Wearing a diaper can help avoid the discomfort of bladder leaks in regular clothing.
  • Less stress. You don’t have to worry about stains when leaks happen.
  • Discretion. Many styles are absorbent yet thin enough to fit under your clothes.
  • Convenience. Some adult diapers pull on and off like regular underwear.

Types of adult diapers

There are several types of disposable adult diapers. You may need to experiment to find out what works best for you or your loved one. Buying them online provides some privacy.

  • Incontinence pads are absorbent pads, like panty liners. They adhere to the inside of your underwear.
  • Pull-ups look like regular underwear. They’re a great choice for someone who has mobility and wants a discreet look. (You can usually wear them undetected under your clothes.)
  • Disposable adult diapers are absorbent and have side fasteners (like a baby’s diaper). They are good for people who have heavy incontinence and have trouble standing or walking.

How to Change an Adult Diaper

If your loved one has mobility issues, you may need to change their disposable diaper. You’ll need:

  • Disposable gloves.
  • Wet wipes (i.e. baby wipes).
  • A plastic bag or other garbage container. (Never flush incontinence products).
  • Barrier cream (like Desitin).
  • A clean diaper.

To change someone else’s adult diaper, follow these steps:

  • Put on disposable gloves.
  • Have your loved one lie on their back while you undo the diaper tabs.
  • With one hand on the hip and the other on the shoulder, gently turn the person onto their side.
  • Pull the soiled diaper out from between their legs. Roll it up and throw it in the trash.
  • Using cleansing wipes, wipe from front to back, shifting your loved one if necessary.
  • Allow the skin to dry for a few minutes. Apply a barrier cream to protect their skin.
  • Open a fresh diaper and fold it in half lengthwise. With your loved one on their side, slide the diaper between their legs. Spread out the rear side so it covers the buttocks.
  • Roll your loved one gently back onto their back and pull the front of the diaper up snugly between their legs. Spread it outward.
  • Pull the bottom edges of the diaper forward around their hips to meet the front section.
  • Fasten the top tabs at a downward angle, and the bottom tabs at an upward angle.

To Change Your Own Adult Diaper

Depending on your needs, you may be able to wear the pull-up style adult diaper, which slides off and on like underwear. If you need to wear the side-fastening style, however, here’s how to change it:

  • Stand up.
  • Remove your pants.
  • Remove the soiled diaper, throw it away, and clean yourself.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Fold the fresh diaper lengthwise.
  • Pass it between your legs.
  • Pull out the front and the back sections and spread both out.
  • Pull the back edges around your hips to meet the front.
  • Fasten bottom tabs, angling them up for better fit.
  • Fasten top tabs, angling them down for better fit.
  • Put on any clothing you removed.

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Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

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