Caring for the Caregiver: Tips for Reducing Stress with Incontinence

If anyone tells you that supporting a person with incontinence isn’t stressful, they haven’t had to do it. Personally, I have an adult son who has been incontinent his entire life. When I tell people this, they imagine a paralyzed or bed ridden individual, one who is changed at home, with all the supplies handy, acquiescent and compliant. But that is not the case. My son has a disability that affects him cognitively but not physically, he is fully mobile and on-the-go. He can be a challenge to change and clean up, especially out in public. I have learned to navigate the world with an eye for where I can change him, and if people don’t like me taking an adult male into the lady’s room, it’s just too bad. The alternative, of going into the men’s room, is not an option. Thank goodness for family restrooms and believe me I know where all of them are in my area.


With incontinence, the goal is to help people get out in the community and function as normally as possible. Stories of incontinence misadventures, and all caretakers have them, can be heartbreaking or hilarious, unbelievable or ordinary, but all of them are stressful. Where can I change him? Do I have what I need (briefs, wipes, changes of clothes)? Can I get him to a changing area without too much mess or embarrassment? Has there been damage to where he was sitting? All of these things go through my mind as I experience the stress of trying to manage his incontinence.


Since stress is a given with incontinence, how can that stress be reduced? How can you take care of your loved one, or your client, and also take care of yourself? I have asked myself that question innumerable times while caring for my son, and to generalize, I think it requires a balance between efficient caregiving and good self-care. These two areas are not mutually exclusive and can actually support each other. Let’s take a look.


Efficient Caregiving

The average person goes to the bathroom between 8 and 10 times a day, that can translate into a lot of changes for the incontinence caregiver. If you are a caregiver, you know there are all kinds of complications and all kinds of issues, but being prepared can greatly reduce the stress. If I know I have my “incontinence care kit” fully stocked, I am a lot less anxious when an accident occurs. The same is true if I know there is an easy place to change my son nearby, because changing an adult male in the open back end of an SUV in winter is about as bad as it gets. The point is, that the more you can be prepared, the easier things will go. The following are my top recommendations to create more efficient caregiving in this area.


Incontinence Care Kit - Have a kit and better yet have two. I have an on the go backpack with supplies, similar to a diaper bag, as well as a plastic tub in the back end of the car that has the following:

  • Briefs (diapers) or underwear (pull-ups) several extra in each kit. I often keep a whole pack in the car just in case.
  • Underpads for use in the car, restaurants or public seating to keep things dry or as a changing pad when needed.
  • Wet Wipes are essential for cleaning up the person and potentially surrounding surfaces.
  • A change of clothes that covers all the bases from socks to outerwear.
  • Plastic bags for soiled cloths and briefs. Large slide-lock or recycled grocery store plastic bags work well.


Plan Ahead - As fun as it is to be spontaneous, spontaneous doesn’t always equate to having what you need or easily finding a place to change your client or loved when you need to. Think through whether you have what you need. An incontinence care kit is only as good as its stock. Buy supplies in advance and in quantity. Plan where you are going and know where you can do a clean-up if needed. I do things like ask for tables in restaurants near the restroom, because it is far easier to slip through a nearby door rather than traversing an entire restaurant.


Quality Products - If you have a good fitting brief that holds a good amount of liquid it can make all the difference. I can’t stress enough how much better life is with a high-quality brief versus an inferior one. If it fits properly, and the elastic is secure around the legs, it will minimize leaks and make your job far simpler.


Dress in easy to remove clothing - This sounds basic, but if you are taking your mother out to lunch and she wants to wear a complicated to remove outfit, you may regret it later. Encourage those you care for to dress in easy to remove items like elastic waist pants for efficiency.


Good Self-Care

In combination with efficient caregiving to reduce stress, we need to take care of ourselves! I’m talking about the oxygen mask theory where you put yours on first before your child’s when on a plane. If you are passed out, you can’t help your child with their mask, and the same is true with caregiving in general. A burned-out caregiver is no good to anyone, so focus on keeping yourself healthy and rested. You can do this in big ways like by taking a long hot soak in the tub, or little ways like remembering to slow down and breathe while you are caring for others. My top recommendations for good-self-care include the following.


Breathe - Sounds corny, but holding your breath is how the body stores tension. Conversely, a few deep breaths in a row, done on a regular basis, has been shown to reduce stress overall.


Get sunlight - Fresh air and sunlight can improve mood and reduce stress. Sunlight also provides vitamins and regulates melatonin, your sleep hormone.


Choose nutrient rich foods - Stress depletes the body and a depleted body is more prone to stress. To break this cycle, choose foods that are low in sugar and rich in nutrients like fruits, veggies, nuts, and meats.


Get enough sleep - Sleep reduces stress in ways science is still learning about. You need 7-9 hours nightly. If you need help, search “sleep hygiene” online for tips on getting better quality sleep.


Exercise - Working out tension by exercising is a form of good self-care. From a walk to a dance class, do something you enjoy and see if it doesn’t make a difference.


Have a hobby - By definition a hobby is something you derive pleasure from. Choose something that works with your budget and lifestyle, and brings you joy. A mental break from life’s stressors can be extremely relaxing.


Caring for Others and Caring for Self

Caring for yourself as a caregiver requires thought and planning. It is easy to slip into patterns of giving it all away and having nothing left for yourself. Consider lowering stress at work by planning ahead and choose a few simple things you can do to take better care of yourself. The goal is to give good care to your loved one or client by being at your best. Try a few of the above suggestions and see if they can make a difference.

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