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Understanding the Link Between Incontinence and Dementia

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Understanding the Link Between Incontinence and Dementia

While care home managers and nurses are very well-acquainted with the symptoms of continence and dementia, not everyone may fully understand how the two conditions may be linked.

Fully understanding the ways in which the symptoms of dementia and incontinence can overlap may help nurses, carers, and care home staff to provide a more holistic solution to patients in need of both continence care and mental health support. In this article we’ll explain the link between incontinence and dementia, and how you can offer adequate support for the residents in your care home where it is needed.

Dementia and the elderly


As the population of elderly individuals in the United Kingdom continues to grow, the prevalence of conditions such as dementia grows with it.

The term ‘dementia’ is used to refer to a number of symptoms of brain damage or deterioration that may be caused by several illnesses. These cognitive impairment symptoms can include difficulty with thinking clearly, solving problems and communicating, as well as memory loss, and in some cases it can affect the person’s physical movements too.

Alzheimer's disease is presently by far the most common cause of dementia, and in the UK, around 750,000 people are currently sufferers.

The link between dementia and incontinence


While not every person that is living with dementia will also have incontinence, or vice-versa, it is important to recognise and explore the link between both conditions. Problems with continence occur when control over the bladder or bowel function is lost, and it can occur in people that are living with dementia for various reasons.

Our brains are responsible for sending messages to the bowel and bladder - telling them when they need to be emptied. Being in control of these functions depends on an awareness of your own bodily sensations, such as the feeling that comes with having a full bladder, and the memory of when, and how to respond. When dementia leads to a decline in understanding and memory, incontinence can occur out of confusion alone.

After all, the changes that occur in a person's brain through dementia can interfere with a person's ability to:

  •          Recognise when they need to go to the toilet
  •          Find the toilet (prompting a need for dementia-friendly signage around the care home)
  •          Be able to wait to go to the toilet until it is appropriate
  •          Recognise and use a toilet properly

Other causes of incontinence in people living with dementia


Importantly, although the symptoms of dementia can be enough to lead to instances of incontinence by themselves, other medical conditions might also lead to incontinence issues in residents within a care home setting. For instance, dementia patients may frequently suffer with hormonal changes, constipation, infections, issues with medication, or even prostate enlargement issues that make using the bathroom more difficult.

It's worth noting that many of the conditions that can exacerbate issues of incontinence in care home residents can easily be treated by a doctor or nurse. Because of this, patients should always be encouraged to seek out help from a medical professional when they're struggling from incontinence issues - even if they feel somewhat embarrassed about the topic at hand. Read our article on how to ease the embarrassment of incontinence for tips on how to make your residents feel confident and assured.

Knowing the connection between dementia and incontinence is an important part of the process of carrying out a continence assessment for customised care. Do you have any advice or tips to share on helping your residents that are living with dementia to manage incontinence? Leave us a comment below, or send us a tweet @CareShopBunzl

While care home managers and nurses are very well-acquainted with the symptoms of continence and dementia, not everyone may fully understand how the two conditions may be linked. Fully understanding the ways in which the symptoms of dementia and incontinence can overlap may help nurses,...

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