“Yeah so my Dad, he is getting older and I see it but no one wants to discuss that he is having ‘accidents’. [Eye contact being avoided and embarrassed while we spoke] How do I bring this up with him? Is so embarrassing.”–I was asked this by an acquaintance when we bumped into each other on the street.
Before addressing the incontinence, or a loss of autonomy, let’s explore different aspects that it touches upon, simply as it is when someone becomes incontinent and cannot manage certain aspects of their autonomy anymore :
- increased risk of falls due to a slippery floor
- soiled clothes
- increase in smells
- perhaps a lowered level of hygiene, which in turn could start affecting the condition of the skin
- lowered level of pride
- decreased level of self-confidence
- could increase levels of isolation
- increased levels of anger or other behaviours to try and mask the real issue
- silence and avoidance due to the white elephant in the room
- plus, plus
So, incontinence is one thing but it brings on a whole bunch of other issues: physical, emotional, social and others.
Let’s not talk about the root of the issue at the moment but let’s explore other items, not to beat around the bush but to increase safety, pride and independence.
“Hi Dad. Blah Blah Blah–as the conversation goes. Hey, I noticed some laundry was piling up. How about I run a load while I am here. Which colours should I do first, the darks or the bright colours?”
“Oh Dad. I have trouble keeping up with housekeeping too. When I went to the bathroom I notice that it could use a little attention. Should we look into housekeeping? Maybe we could start with every 2 weeks. I think it could offer Mom a break too. How about I look into that for you?” “Well, if you do not want help what can help you? Shall I go buy some wipes and leave them in the bathroom? We could set up a little shelf here with cleaning products so it would be more convenient for you? What do you think?”
Put yourselves in their shoes. Do you want to hear that you are losing autonomy? That you are slowing down? That you are not whom you used to be? Probably not. You want to be seen for whom you are today.
It is a conversation about exploring different options due to new realities. There are so many different options out there and such a variety of adapted equipment, therapies, diets and medication. Explore options to see what could help. The conversation will forever be evolving so never sit back thinking or saying : “Good. we dealt with that. Next?” –nope. It is never going to be static as health and life always evolves and moves forward.
So then at one point in the conversation or during a visit or while taking a walk……. “Dad. How can I help regarding your accidents or your incontinence. This cannot be fun for you. I hate the fact that you are not going out as much because of it. You must miss your buddies or your golf game (name whatever activity you have noticed a cut back in). Can I help you in anyway? By looking into products, treatment, help…whatever it is? If you do not want me to help who would you prefer? I am asking you because I care and I recognize that this must be challenging/embarrassing . I do know there are a variety of options out there. These ‘accidents’ are starting to affect many other things like the upkeep of the house, your hygiene, your level of engagement…..what can help rebalance things for you?” “Can we try out some things to see what can help? At least try?”
Remember you can offer help but you cannot force help in or onto someone.
Be kind. Be empathetic. Listen. Adjust. Back off when you see the body language shutting down. Avoid confrontation. Have the conversation while you are side by side and not in front of each other. Have the discussion on a neutral territory, not at your Dad’s house.
How would you like for something like this to be discussed with you? With tenderness and with kindness, I am sure. Change and loss creates fears and insecurities. Go slow. Go steady. Be positive. Be creative. Be kind.
Hope this helps. This post is about incontinence but it is the same approach for memory loss, physical loss, grief….you name it, where there is a change in life, a change of autonomy….see the person for who they are today, not for what they have lost and for who they are not. See them for who they are and for what they need now.