6 Things Never to Say to an Incontinent Person

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Worried about how to talk to someone about incontinence? These potentially awkward conversations proceed best when you're casual, candid, and calm.

What doesn't work

Avoid approaches like these:

1. "I'm sick and tired of cleaning up after you, so I bought you these diapers." (You'll only make the person embarrassed and defensive.)

Better: "I notice you had another night accident. I think it's time to have the doctor check out what's going on." (Acknowledge that it's likely a medical issue.)

2. "Why can't you control yourself?" (They can't. If they could, they wouldn't be incontinent.)

Better: "I know this bothers you. But don't worry; we'll figure out what's wrong and how to work with it." (Use an empathetic approach to make yourself an advocate, not an enemy.)

3. "Are you doing this to spite me?" (No, this isn't about mean-spiritedness.)

Better: "Are you embarrassed? Don't be. I've heard there are lots of different kinds of incontinence, and it's really common." (Keep it from becoming an emotional issue.)

4. "That's it, nothing liquid for you after noon." (People need adequate hydration; rather than arbitrarily withholding liquids, work with a physician to determine the cause of the problem and the right remedy.)

Better: "Not drinking anything isn't healthy for you, so that can't be the answer; let's find out what the doctor thinks." (Be supportive instead of controlling.)

5. "I can't take you anywhere." (You can, with preparation such as incontinence products, using the toilet right before an outing, and slowing beverage intake beforehand.)

Better: "I know it's stressful when you go out and worry about accidents; that's why these briefs are such a good idea. You don't want to stop enjoying life just because of this." (Show that there are solutions.)

6. "Looks like you'll be wearing these for the rest of your life." (Many problems with incontinence are reversible, but even if not, there's no point in emphasizing the negative.)

Better: "Let's see how it goes using these for now." (Don't set up negative -- or unrealistic -- expectations.)

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio