Last year around this time, I spoke to a lovely 80-year young lady who hadn’t left her house more than ten times in the past 2 years. She had even missed her grandson’s wedding the previous summer rather than risk having an incontinent episode (a leak of urine while in a public location).
For more than 2 years, she had felt shut up in at her one bedroom condo, relying on her daughter and her kind neighbours to deliver almost everything she needed – groceries, prescriptions, and even picking out birthday cards for her 3 great-grandchildren, which she mailed religiously on time every year.
It’s the kind of story I hear too often, managing a call center for a national direct-to-home retailer of adult incontinence products. With Mother’s Day this weekend, I know that Monday we’ll see a surge in calls from children who have visited their parents on this family holiday, and discovered that their Mom (or Dad, for that matter) is withdrawing from life because of a fear of incontinence.
Let’s be frank - urinary incontinence is a very common problem. The Canadian Continence Foundation estimates that more than 3 million Canadians are affected, and the CDC reports that 50% of people over the age of 65 manage it on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, people (of any age, but particularly over the age of 65) are often too embarrassed to discuss incontinence with family or physicians. Elderly parents are frequently ashamed to shop the “specialty” aisle at their local pharmacy, often relying on low-absorbency feminine hygiene products or DIY solutions that aren’t effective, and make the fear of leaks worse.
If you suspect your parent is withdrawing from the world because of a fear of incontinent episodes, there are things you can do to help:
1) Have an open and gentle talk. Many of my customers have said they feel relieved when their adult children bring the subject up for them. A neutral observation followed by a question often works well: “I read an article that a lot of people over 65 are having trouble getting to the washroom in time; is that something you’ve ever dealt with?” or “There are a lot of commercials for Depends on TV lately; have you ever thought you might try them?”
2) Discuss with their healthcare professional. Incontinence can be the symptom of many conditions, some of which can be improved or resolved completely. A lifestyle change, a change in medication, or physiotherapy could be a simple step to help. Many hospitals and healthcare organizations offer clinics or appointments with nurse continence advisors who can give specialized help.
3) Know the product options. Adult incontinence products have come a long way from the cloth “diapers” of old. Today’s products are super absorbent and designed to prevent leaks in active adults, while fitting discretely under clothing. Look to online retailers for a wider range of sizes, styles and absorbencies than are found in pharmacies and big box stores, as well as free samples to try new products, and home delivery for your parent.
Good news: In the case of my caller, we were able to send her a few samples and find her a product that eliminated leaks. She told me she felt “free” again and she was confidently looking forward to visiting her daughter at the next family get-together – a great success story that the entire Healthwick customer care team enjoyed.