Living with Incontinence: Coping Strategies for Managing Daily Challenges
It goes without saying that living with incontinence isn’t easy, anyone who has experienced it can testify to the numerous challenges encountered in daily living. Moreover, the challenges it presents are unique to the form of incontinence present as well as its severity. That said, regardless of type, incontinence doesn’t have to be the end of life as you know it and there are plenty of life hacks available to make life easier for those who struggle with it.
To address the various strategies available for management incontinence it’s important to first address the different forms of incontinence. Firstly, incontinence falls under two categories: urinary and faecal:
- Urinary incontinence can range anywhere from small leaks from the bladder during strenuous activities to a complete loss of bladder control. The estimated prevalence of urinary incontinence ranges widely based on the criteria of what constitutes incontinence and can be affected by astigmatism or lack of awareness. One studyfound an overall prevalence of about 23% of the population being affected by urinary incontinence at least once per month, with 34.5% of women and 12% of men reporting symptoms. As this study excluded those with Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms (LUTS) actual figures are likely to be higher. Additional risk factors for this condition include: advanced age, being overweight, neurological damage and certain mental health disorders.
- Faecal incontinence relates to the bowel condition and can range anywhere from a slight leak of stool during exertion to a complete loss of bowel control. This form of incontinence often receives less attention, but for many sufferers it may be even more debilitating. It’s difficult to find a good estimate for prevalence with estimates ranging from 2-25%, while one large scale study found as many as 1 in 7 people have reported experiencing faecal incontinence. Risk factors include: advanced age, neurological damage, bowel conditions such as celiac disease or IBS.
Some people experience both types of incontinence and both types also can be subcategorized into the following: stress, urge, overflow, functional and any combination of these.
- Stress incontinence refers to bladder or bowel leakage that happens during strenuous activities. This could happen during exercise or even during a cough or sneeze.
- Urge incontinence refers to bladder or bowel leakage that happens following a sudden urge to urinate or defecate. This type of incontinence is often described as “not being able to get to the toilet in time”.
- Overflow incontinence refers to the leakage that can occur due to a bladder or bowel that is unable to properly contain flow. The result of this is often a steady leakage or leakage after using the toilet.
- Functional incontinence isn’t so much a physical form of incontinence but rather the inability to use the toilet by oneself due to physical or psychological condition. People with this form of incontinence may be able to control their bladder or bowel but are unable to properly act on it.
Before discussing strategies for managing incontinence, it should be noted that incontinence can be caused by a serious underlying health condition and you should always consult with a doctor if you develop incontinence. With that said, here are some strategies for managing specific forms of incontinence as well as some more generally applicable to both types.
There are a few specific tricks to dealing with urinary incontinence. Regardless of severity it’s a good idea to schedule our fluid intake to avoid overnight leakage and allow your bladder to follow a predictable course. Moreover, you should plan for a consistent fluid intake, as too little can concentrate urine and irritate the bladder, which results in further urgency and greater risk of leakage. Certain acidic foods and diuretics like caffeine or alcohol can have a similar effect and worsen urinary incontinence. So avoiding these foods can go a ways to reducing the severity of urinary incontinence.
In terms of protection, there are a huge variety of products for managing urinary incontinence to avoid embarrassment. If you only suffer from lighter leaks you’ll want a product that’s gender tailored to cover the areas most susceptible to leakage. These products take the form of disposable pads that are worn in the underwear or as reusable pads that are sewn into the underwear like Carer washable incontinence underwear line. Moderate urinary incontinence typically requires a much wider pad or more absorbent reusable or disposable protective underwear. Those with severe urinary incontinence would be best served with absorbent briefs (adult diapers). When picking a product it’s important to gauge how frequently it can be changed and often a good idea to go up a level of absorbency compared with your usual product when changing is challenging (e.g. during travel). Products more specific to gender also exist in terms of solutions including female inserts, catheters and male clamps.
There are also a few tricks that can be specifically used for managing bowel incontinence. For many it’s important to keep track of the foods you eat and how they affect your bowel movements. Spicy foods, fatty/greasy foods and dairy products are common offenders when it comes to bowel incontinence. To a certain extent, you can also train your bowel movements to happen at particular times when it’s more convenient to deal with, which can be accomplished by meal timing and self monitoring. Additionally, the impact of bowel incontinence can be reduced by using fecal deodorants, which reduce the smell of stool and gas.
Having good protection when dealing with bowel incontinence is essential. For light bowel incontinence there are absorbent pads that can be worn in one’s underwear. However, for anything heavier it’s advisable to wear absorbent briefs (adult diapers with tabs) as they are easier to remove and less messy for changes. With any of these absorbent bowel incontinence products it’s particularly important to find those with tall/strong leak guards for containment. Protective underwear products are generally best suited for urinary incontinence rather than bowel incontinence as they’re more difficult to change, but a few products exist with detachable sides. Also, for this reason it’s best to use disposable products for bowel incontinence rather than reusable ones, but for lighter bowel incontinence disposable pads could be worn inside reusable products for better protection. Protective barrier creams/powers are also a must when dealing with bowel incontinence.
General Coping Strategies
Bladder and bowel incontinence have many overlapping challenges and there are a number of tricks that can be used to manage both. With both conditions, it’s important to maintain your mental health and not let the condition take control of your life. Managing symptoms of depression and anxiety can go a long way to improving one’s ability to cope with incontinence. Also, as can be said for life more generally, eating healthy, exercising and practising mindfulness can be beneficial for improving incontinence symptoms. Moreover, maintaining personal hygiene and a healthy sleep routine will help with both physical and psychological impacts of incontinence. Counterintuitively, reducing constipation via a diet high in fibre can actually help with both urinary and bowel incontinence with the additional benefit of improving cardiovascular health.
Both forms of incontinence can benefit from a form of exercise called kegels, which work by directly strengthening the muscles used for bladder/bowel control. When dealing with incontinence it’s also important to know where to find bathrooms, particularly when travelling to unfamiliar places. In both forms of incontinence it’s a good idea to travel with protective absorbent products, wipes for cleanup, and bags for odor containment and disposal of used products. Bringing an additional set of clothing can also be helpful in the case of unexpected leaks. Fortunately, there are many highly absorbent discreet products on the market and, when used together with the lifestyle tricks mentioned in this article, incontinence doesn’t have to be a burden.