Incontinence is a term that describes any accidental or involuntary loss of urine, faeces or wind.

Though it can happen at any age, older people are particularly susceptible to experiencing incontinence.

People who suffer from incontinence, often suffer from shame, fear and anxiety over having an accident.

There are two main kinds of incontinence;

  • Urinary incontinence – which is urine
  • Bowel incontinence – which can either be bowel motion, faeces or wind

There are a number of things that can be done to improve, and in some cases even cure, incontinence. This can include changes such as adopting a healthier diet and lifestyle. Or incorporating regular exercise and practices, good toilet habits can all lead to improvements.

In aged care, there are many residents that suffer with incontinence – this number is believed to be around 77% of residents in Australia are affected by some form incontinence.

In fact, bowel incontinence is one of the three major causes (along with decreased mobility and dementia) for admittance to a residential aged care facility.

And with so many elderly people struggling with cognitive and physical impairments, they often need the support of a carer or nurse to prevent any accidents or incontinence.

While it is important to make sure the residents are kept hygienically clean and dry, it’s also vitally important to ensure that the older person’s dignity is maintained where possible.

Incontinence and Dignity

When an elderly person is in aged care, they should not feel ashamed when they have an accident or leak.

Though staff are aware of incontinence, it still remains a highly stigmatised and mostly untreated condition.

Some aged care residents find that the way staff manage their incontinence issues is simply by “padding” them up – which can leave them feeling uncomfortable and undignified.

Continence is strongly connected with a person’s quality of life – and working with an older person to prevent them from becoming incontinent can make a huge difference to a person’s physical and mental wellbeing.

So what steps can an aged care worker take to ensure a resident maintain their dignity when dealing with incontinence issues?

  1. Staff to better recognise when a person may need to go to the toilet. This means making sure they get there on time or helping them find it.
  2. Help the resident get to the toilet independently or with assistance – some residents may not be comfortable with being assisted.
  3. Help the elderly person use the toilet once they get there, because in some cases simply getting them to the bathroom is not enough.
  4. Assist the person after they have used the toilet – this may mean adjusting their clothing and washing their hands after use.
  5. Once they are finished with the bathroom, assisting the person back to where they want to go, whether it’s their room or a communal area.

Factors that may influence whether incontinence is well managed within an organisation may depend on the design layout or environment, access to professional support or aids, and the attitudes of the staff.

Incontinence is a real issue in aged care that goes beyond “having an accident”, and staff need to remember the person behind the condition and their dignity.

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