Difficult Conversations: Tips for Talking to Dad about Incontinence

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Fri Jul 01 2022.

Difficult Conversations: Tips for Talking to Dad about Incontinence

Incontinence can be tough to talk about, but it’s a conversation you can’t ignore. Without intervention and treatment, involuntary voids can affect your loved one’s health, confidence, and quality of life.

Here at Carewell, we regularly hear from caretakers struggling to broach this crucial topic. Family members who care for men, in particular, often find incontinence hard to discuss. 

Even if your loved one is willing to listen, suggesting that there’s a problem might trigger an angry outburst or cause them to feel embarrassed and shut down.

In this article, we discuss why men are less likely to seek treatment for incontinence than women and provide some tips and tricks for addressing the issue in a calm, cool, and collected manner.

Is incontinence a common problem?

Yes. Incontinence is a common problem, especially in older people.

“When it comes to urology health and incontinence, you may find some comfort in knowing you aren’t alone,” said Paul Merrick, MD, integrated oncology program, urology, chairman and chief physician executive for Duly Health and Care in Chicago, Illinois.

“Several studies, including one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that nearly 51% of people aged 65 and older living at home reported bowel and bladder incontinence.”

If that’s the case, why does my care recipient deny that there’s an issue?

There are several reasons your care recipient might deny a problem with incontinence, including:

Underlying medical issues

Neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can affect your loved one’s ability to control their bladder and bowels.

Other conditions that may cause incontinence in men include urinary tract infection (UTI), overactive bladder, neurological conditions, and prostate issues, according to Dr. Merrick. 

Prescription medications

The average American takes four prescription medications. Certain drugs, like oral estrogens, alpha-blockers, and calcium channel blockers can exacerbate incontinence or irritate the bladder.

Pride and/or self-consciousness

American culture tends to embrace men who are strong, courageous, and unwilling to ask for help. Sometimes these ideas become so ingrained, that older men deny a problem altogether.

“It’s common for many people, including men, to hope something goes away or that it will be resolved if they ignore it,” said Dr. Merrick. Unfortunately, “if you ‘wish it away’ rather than deal with it, this can exacerbate the problem.”

How should a family caregiver approach the topic of incontinence?

There are several things that family caregivers can do to make discussing incontinence easier, including:

Choosing a time and place to have the conversation

Try to talk to your care recipient about incontinence when they’re well-rested, fed, and alert. If you bring it up when they’re tired, hungry, or distracted, they may get defensive, shut down, or act out. 

Pro tip: Have the conversation after a meal or snack. Start by listing off symptoms you’ve noticed, like frequent trips to the toilet or soiled underwear. Don’t accuse. Simply ask if your care recipient is aware of these changes too.

Explaining that you can relate and only want to help

Many men are fathers and grandfathers. Admitting that there’s a problem with incontinence can make them feel self-conscious or less masculine.

Let your care recipient know that incontinence doesn’t say anything about who they are as a person. If it helps, you can even bring up your own qualms with the aging process. For example, maybe you’re balding or aren’t as physically fit as you used to be. Comparisons like these can help reduce feelings of defensiveness. 

Keep trying, even if it doesn’t work the first time

Everyone deals with incontinence differently. If your care recipient blows up or denies that there’s a problem, try not to let it affect you. Be patient and as sympathetic as possible. You might have to have the same conversation several times or bring in a professional who can assist.

Visiting the doctor

If you haven’t already, it’s also important to schedule an appointment with your care recipient’s primary care physician. Sometimes, advice from a qualified medical professional makes more of an impact. 

“I share with patients that life does have aches, pains, and challenges, but when your body is telling you something it’s important to listen –– especially if it persists,” said Dr. Merrick. “It’s important to seek medical advice and urinalysis so you determine if it’s serious or not.”

Dr. Merrick continued, “there are several non-invasive tests that can help determine a bladder or prostate problem. For example, a simple ultrasound of the bladder or a blood test – none of which should create fear for the patient. These informative tests can detect UTI, prostate enlargement, or even less likely, stones, diabetes, or other kidney problems.”

Highlight the various treatments available

Another thing that can make talking about incontinence easier, is the abundance of treatment options.

“Overactive bladder issues are very common,” said Dr. Merrick. “Some can even be treated through dietary modification, physical therapy, prescription medication, and in-office treatment. The vast majority of treatments for incontinence are non-surgical.”

Take a deep breath, you’ve got this!

Talking to your care recipient about incontinence can be nerve-wracking, but it’s a conversation that needs to occur. By following these tips and suggestions, you can have a productive discussion and take steps to improve your loved one’s health and quality of life.

If you have questions about any of the incontinence products we carry, or you’d like personal recommendations, contact our knowledgeable Care Specialists by calling (855) 855-1666 or sending an email to support@carewell.com. Our goal is to make your job that much easier!

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.