While the devastating effects of memory loss are what we so closely associate with Alzheimer’s disease, its progression has many consequences that are physically troubling for caregivers to manage, including incontinence. Alzheimer’s and the other types of dementia can lead to the inability of the patient to take care of activities of daily living, like going to the bathroom, and can worsen physical problems like geriatric incontinence. Surprisingly, there can be many reasons for incontinence with Alzheimer’s disease, from losing the inability to recognize when they need to urinate to forgetting where the bathroom is to not being able to take off their clothes in time. Some Alzheimer’s medications even have incontinence as a side effect. (This is why if incontinence in someone with Alzheimer's is a new symptom, a doctor visit is a must to find out the cause.)
Surprisingly few studies have been done to find the best ways for caregivers to handle incontinence in Alzheimer’s patients. One review of existing research found that toileting programs and incontinence adult pads are the mainstays of treatment and also pointed to the need for training programs to help caregivers—both family members and paid professionals—deal with this situation, as well as further studies to find ways that continence can be achieved. According to another study, the burden of caring for someone with incontinence is often the tipping point when caregivers feel they can no longer successfully tend to their loved one at home. So having some strategies to try can delay this decision.
One of the few reported strategies involved working with an occupational therapist. According to one small study, home visits from an OT can show caregivers specific techniques to better manage a loved one’s bathing and incontinence care needs. Another study looked at caregivers who worked with a nurse practitioner. They learned toileting training to help reduce incontinence episodes in the loved one along with practical tips. These include eliminating caffeine from the patient’s diet, making sure there was a clear, lit path to the bathroom, and having a commode chair at bedside.
Here are approaches that can ease the burden of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s and incontinence: