Concerned about how to approach your parent about incontinence?

You’re not alone. While it’s understandable to be embarrassed or uncomfortable when discussing incontinence products with a parent, it’s still important.


Well, first there’s the problem of accidents leading to an unpleasant smell, soiling and staining.  And more than that, there’s also a health issue if incontinence leads to other complications, some of which can be serious—even life-threatening.

When Mary’s mother Betty complained of a sore bottom, Mary decided to look.

Betty rarely complained about pain, so Mary was very concerned.  When she looked, she realized Betty’s incontinence was more severe than Mary thought.  The skin in Betty’s private areas was very red and fragile.

Mary immediately contacted Betty’s doctor who wanted to examine her.  The doctor prescribed a cream for Betty’s skin and wanted to see her again in a few days.  Mary was to check Betty and contact the doctor if anything got worse.

The doctor explained Betty’s skin could be an early sign of a serious skin breakdown known as a decubitus ulcer.  Or more commonly called bed sores.  These ulcers often are difficult to treat.  And untreated, they can lead to deep infections of underlying structures like bones.

Thankfully Betty responded to treatment.  Within two weeks she was completely healed.

Mary decided to approach Betty about preventing such a scare in the future.  Instead of scolding, Mary gently told Betty she was concerned about what kind of complications that could cause.  Together they chose incontinence products that Betty could use.  And Mary made it a point to check Betty’s skin regularly.

Incontinence products

So what are some things to consider when approaching a parent or other relative about incontinence?

  1. Medical concerns…
  2. Gently approach the subject…
  3. Bring a sense of humor…
  4. Avoid criticisms…
  5. Use benign terms.

Taking these one at a time—

1. Medical concerns. There’s probably a medical reason why the person is incontinent.  It’s important to have a doctor check for medical conditions that can be treated.  Sometimes incontinence is a sign of a urinary tract infection, for example.

Perhaps you can suggest incontinence products as a temporary option until seen by the doctor.

2. Gently approach the subject. Instead of taking charge, a more gentle approach is often warranted.  Put yourself in your parent’s place.  She may be extremely embarrassed about the condition, and uncomfortable discussing it with her child.

So it’s a good idea to gently approach the topic, using a calm voice and reminding her it is likely a medical condition.  You may even find using medical terms helpful to keep the discussion less threatening.

3. Bring your sense of humor. Without making fun of the situation, keeping the discussion light can often relieve the stress.

4. Avoid criticisms. Remember this is a medical issue.  Your parent is not purposely doing this, and cannot control it.  Decreasing her fluid intake, which she may be doing, can actually do more harm than good.  It won’t decrease the incontinence and can lead to medical problems including dehydration and its complications.

5. Use benign terms for the incontinence products. Rather than discussing diapers, use the terms “briefs” or “panties” or “pull ups” or “pads” depending upon the situation.  It can help your parent keep her dignity about the situation.

Once you approach your parent, sometimes finding the right incontinence supplies can be another challenge.

Have you noticed how many of the store brands are actually identical to the brand name?

That’s great when you’re looking to save money.  However, it can be less than helpful when you’re looking for alternatives.  The stores can too often seen to carry exactly the same product.  You may even find stores specializing in home health care products don’t seem to carry incontinence products.

And when you finally do find what you’re looking for, are you embarrassed to stock up and check out?  It can feel uncomfortable toting those brightly colored packages loudly proclaiming “INCONTINENCE PRODUCTS” to your car, and then into your home.

Instead, wouldn’t it be nice to choose the products in your own home, have them delivered to your door in discreet packaging with free shipping?

Of course it would!  think how much it could reduce your caregiver stress.  And now you can.  To find out more just click on this link.

Until next time…

To your healthy caregiving,

Dr. Ina

Ina Gilmore M.D. (ret.)
“The Knitting Dr.”
Ambassador of Elder Care,
Founder, and

The information on this website is for educational purposes only.  It does not replace information or recommendations from your own physician or other health care provider. Click here for Full Disclaimer

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