Spring is officially here and, along with an increase in temperature, it can bring anxiety and stress for those living with incontinence. Over the next several months, as states reopen and social distancing guidelines lift, planned outdoor events and activities may begin to proceed as normal. Many states have also opened parks and hiking trails for those wishing to spend time outdoors. This means limited access to restrooms, while the warmer weather will also necessitate fewer layers of clothing—making it harder to hide an accident.
These changes, along with the daily struggles that people living with incontinence often face, can lead to people avoiding certain situations and activities altogether, ultimately creating feelings of isolation and depression. There are several steps and preventative measures, however, that caregivers can take to help lessen the anxiety, stress and negative feelings that can arise for their patients with warmer weather.
What comes first: anxiety or incontinence? Incontinence can cause stress and anxiety just as much as stress and anxiety can increase the likelihood of accidents. To help reduce anxiety and stress, and in turn, accidents occurring, plan ahead for events, trips and outings.
The day before heading outdoors, check your destination for available restrooms, both during the drive and once you arrive. There are several apps you can download, such as Bathroom Scout, that not only advise where restrooms are, but also how clean and accessible they are to help you plan appropriately.
Be sure to also schedule bathroom breaks during your outing. Unexpected leaks and accidents can come on quickly, but allotting five to 10 minutes every two hours for a quick break can help prevent unforeseen issues from arising.
A key step in successful outings with your patients is to ensure that you have the products and supplies you need. You are probably familiar with the daily incontinence products your patients use, but be sure to bring extra supplies (briefs and/or pull-ons) to account for multiple changes throughout the day. You’ll also want to pack a few pairs of gloves and sanitary wipes to allow for mess-free changes, along with small trash bags to dispose of soiled items. If visiting a nature preserve, be sure to take out what you bring in; don’t leave soiled items for other visitors or park employees to dispose of.
For the drive to and from an event or outing, especially trips over an hour, bring some chux pads for your care partner to sit on. This will help ease their mind about potential leaks in the car. In case of an accident or leak in the car or at the event, pack an extra change of clothes as well—something that looks similar to the outfit they are wearing will help keep any necessary wardrobe changes as discreet as possible.
Diet & Hydration
As you may already know, diet goes a long way in helping to manage incontinence. Foods filled with fiber, as well as certain fruits, vegetables and healthy carbs, can help to promote a healthy, regular bladder while spicy foods, caffeine and dairy can increase the likelihood of accidents.
A balanced breakfast of oatmeal and berries is a great start to any event-filled day. Follow this with a protein-packed sandwich on whole grain bread with a side of veggies for lunch, and your patient will not only be full and satisfied, but have less risk of any unexpected accidents.
It’s important to also consider diet in the days leading up to an event. Meals loaded with dairy or spice can affect the bladder for extended periods of time and could cause repercussions for outings and trips several days later. To help with managing incontinence on a daily basis and not just for specific events, talk with your patients about entirely removing these bladder-irritating foods from their diets—and offer replacements that can be swapped in.
While it may seem counterintuitive, staying hydrated is an important part of managing incontinence. It’s especially important during warm summer months and when spending time outdoors, when dehydration is more likely due to increased activity. Opt for water and steer clear of drinks that might aggravate the bladder, such as coffee and tea. It’s important to stay consistent in water consumption throughout the day instead of drinking large amounts at once, which can quickly fill the bladder and cause accidents.
If your patient tries to avoid drinking water in an attempt to decrease accidents, remind them about the importance of staying hydrated to reduce urinary tract infections (UTIs). UTIs are often more common in individuals living with incontinence and pairing this heightened risk with dehydration will ultimately cause more issues.
Discuss Your Plan
Possibly the most important piece of your plan for the day is discussing it. Letting your patient know what steps you have taken to plan ahead for an event or outing can go a long way in easing their mind.
Advise them on the schedule you have outlined, the products you have packed, restroom locations and the best food and beverage choices for the day. This will not only reduce stress and anxiety, but will also help them feel more comfortable. Additionally, it can help facilitate future conversations around incontinence rather than causing potential embarrassment or attempts to hide an accident.
While it can be tempting for those living with incontinence to avoid outdoor situations, these simple steps can help to ease stress and anxiety that may be associated with warmer temperatures. With the right preparation, spring and summer months can again bring joy and excitement into your patients’ lives.