How to Talk to Someone about Incontinence

Would you rather a loved one suffer minor embarrassment or debilitating incontinence? It seems clear that the first option is preferable. Yet embarrassment prevents many people from raising the topic of incontinence with their loved ones.

This is unfortunate, because incontinence is not only manageable, but also, in many cases, treatable. And the first step toward helping your loved one manage it is to talk about the problem with him or her.

Feelings of awkwardness are understandable. But there are ways to reduce the awkwardness and foster a productive discussion about solutions. Below are several suggestions.

How to Talk About Incontinence

  • Choose a good time to broach the topic. You should be feeling calm. If you’re feeling frustrated or angry after cleaning up after your loved one, postpone the discussion. You don’t want to come across as accusatory. It’s equally important to choose a time that your loved one is likely to be receptive. Caring.com suggests introducing the topic when he or she is enjoying an activity or eating, or at a time when little eye contact is required, such as walking or driving.
  • Be as straightforward as possible. Admittedly, this is easier said than done, which is exactly why you should think carefully about what you want to say and how you want to say it. And practice! You may want to “run lines” with another family member or a friend.
  • Emphasize the physical nature of the problem. Convey the message – either directly or indirectly – that incontinence is a physical, rather than emotional, issue, and that you realize your loved one isn’t having “accidents on purpose.” Also note that incontinence is, to a large extent, a treatable condition. This should help persuade your loved one to see a doctor (your first objective).
  • Mention how common incontinence is. Tell your loved one that up to 50% of adults experience incontinence at some point. He or she will probably feel a lot less ashamed when he or she realizes how widespread the problem is.
  • Use appropriate terminology. No one wants to hear the word “diapers,” which might make your loved one feel infantilized. Talk about special briefs for men or panties for women.
  • Adjust your approach to your loved one’s personality. Some people are more prone to angry reactions than others. Some people like to pretend that everything is fine, even if it’s not. And some people are especially shy about sensitive topics. Think about the type of personality your loved one has and plan accordingly. In some cases, a little-by-little discussion that progresses over a period of time may be more effective than what some people might perceive as a full-fledged onslaught.

Few would claim that incontinence is a pleasant topic of conversation. It’s not. But it’s a lot more pleasant as a subject of discussion than it is as an ongoing condition. And the sooner you discuss incontinence with your loved one, the sooner you can arrive at a solution.