11 Questions to Ask When Selecting Incontinence Products

Before you dive into the ever-expanding world of incontinence products and supplies, be sure that your parent sees her doctor to find out whether her incontinence is treatable. Contrary to common belief, incontinence isn't a normal part of aging. It does strike about one in ten people over the age of 65, though, either temporarily or more long-term, and it's more common among women.

To get started, bear in mind that people often need more than one product to accommodate different levels of activity. Also, the first one you try may not be right for your parent's needs. Just as humans come in all shapes and sizes, so do incontinence products. If you keep looking, you'll find something that will work. 

Dealing with incontinence can be embarrassing. Product dealers are well aware of this. Many have 800 numbers, and some actually make house calls to show you their line of goods and allow you to try or purchase several kinds to see what works. Most products can also be ordered over the Internet or bought at pharmacies or sometimes in bulk at medical supply stores at discounted prices.

The checklist below will help you figure out whether or not a product may work for your parent.

How absorbent is the product?

Depending on how much leakage your parent has, you'll need different levels of absorbency. If your parent leaks only a little during the day but a lot at night, you'll want to find out which products work for those situations. If you try a couple styles that tout absorbency, see how long they protect before they have to be changed.

Can you hear it when your parent walks?

Some products have great absorbency but make noise when the person wearing them moves around. A product that crunches may not be the best choice for a quiet get-together with a few people.

How bulky is it?

A bulky incontinence product may be fine for bedtime but not suitable if your parent is wearing tailored clothes.

How comfortable is it?

Some products may be comfortable before your parent has leakage but really uncomfortable after use and before your parent can reach a bathroom. Some products have better moisture barriers that wick the urine or feces away from the skin. Some have elastic leg bands that may or may not be comfortable. Some are contoured; others are not.

More Questions to Answer About Incontinence Supplies

Does it indicate when a change is needed?

Some products are equipped with a strip that changes color when changing is needed.

Does it have a moisture barrier that works in all positions?

A moisture barrier may work while your parent is standing or seated but less well while he's lying down.

Is it easy to change?

If your parent can't change himself for any reason, you'll want to look for products that are easy to open and close with adhesive tabs, tapes, or Velcro. Or you might consider pull-up briefs that your parent may be able to remove and put on more easily.

Is there a style that looks like normal briefs or underpants?

If your parent is embarrassed about having to wear protection, a style that looks like men's briefs or women's underpants may be a good choice.

Does it prevent odor?

Some products are deodorized. Some have moisture barriers. Depending on how well they work, they can protect against unwanted odor.

How is it packaged?

If you're going on an outing with your parent or traveling somewhere, packaging is important for discreetly carrying and disposing of incontinence products. Some come individually wrapped, while larger, bulkier products may need to be carried in a separate travel bag.

How much does it cost?

Products are priced differently. Some dealers give discounts for buying in bulk, buying online, or through mail order.

Laurie Udesky

Laurie Udesky has covered health and medical issues for National Public Radio (NPR); produced features for "Crossroads," a cross-cultural program that aired on NPR; and served as a reporter or editor for medical trade journals such as TB Monitor and AIDS Alert. See full bio

4 months, said...

Which Brand of pull-up incontinence products are currently the most absorbent for night-time use?

about 1 year, said...

I tried everything on my husband and always ended up with him leaking . Any suggestions please . Sincerly a tired Soggydiaper changer

about 3 years, said...

I use the Abena for my mom. And, although they are called briefs they are actually an adult diaper with tabs. My mom has a similar problem where urine always flows to the back while the front remains dryer. That flow pattern will not change, but the Abena is the best extended wear diaper because of its excellent wicking and as a result keeps the skin dry and prevents excoriation. I have, yet, to find a better one and I've tried most on the market. My mom doesn't use pull-ups because she is bedridden.

about 3 years, said...

Where does leakage come from when it is out the side of the pullups for a man. Leakage goes up the back and gets undershirt wet.

over 3 years, said...

The "world's most absorbent adult disposable brief" is Abena. I've tried many brands and this one is truly as advertised. It wicks 1 quart of fluids away and is great for extended wear. Although it's made in Denmark and Europe's best seller, it's sold online in the US. I found the lowest price is on healthykin.com. Well worth it!

over 3 years, said...

since i had my 40 treatments for my prostate cancer, i have experienced urine leakage.the cancer has healed.after 7 years i find i am losing control.the leaking is getting worse to the point ive lost control. i need something to help me. what do you suggest?

over 4 years, said...

I'm a newbie to this site. I'm so glad to know that I'm not the only one dealing with this terrible issue. My husband has Alzheimers, and he's incontinent. Mostly urinary now, but about twice a week he has a problem with his bowels. I'll try the tips you all have given me. Thank you! One thng, I noticed my husband has a bm in the morning, so I try to get him up and into the bathroom , soon after he wakes up. (around 9:30)

over 4 years, said...

You always refered to "your parent" as the ill person. What about when it is your spouse? I don't think I will be if the person with A/ D/ was my mother, who already lived her life, as with my husband, who had a magnificent mind that is dying every day in front of me. But your articles are very helpful. Thankyou.

almost 5 years, said...

This is for the Sicilian Girl. Your mother is ripping off all of those undergarments because they may be too thick, especially if your'e adding an extra pad. Thickness doesn't necessarily mean that they are higher quality. You want a brand that will wick the moisture away from her poor skin. Try a brand called Assurance, available at Wal-Mart. Also, if your mother hates to shower (common condition), can't you just have her sponge-bathed by an aide? I think the comment about depression is spot-on. I know I would be deeply upset if a family member moved in without my permission...even though it was allegedly for my benefit. I sympathize deeply...both with you and your mom. Hugs!

almost 5 years, said...

I keep making this comment in various places, because i keep seeing the word "diaper" used instead of incontinence products. Thank goodness this writer uses the correct term. I have found a great brand called Assurance, which you can buy at Wal-Mart. The material feels more like real underwear than other brands. If you shop at the Sam's Club section at Wal-Mart, I think this product is marketed under "Simply Right". My mother is more comfortable in these than in Depends. I recommend them.

over 5 years, said...

Could you tell me what incintinent briefs have the strip that changes colors, or that have a wicking feature orthat prevent odor? I'm having a time with my 92 year old mother. Even though she has help during the day, 7 days a week, the help works from 11:00 A.M.to 7:00 P.M. My mother stays up til about 10:00 P.M. and watches t.v. with my brother. He brings her up to her room and leaves. I have her disposable briefs on her bed with an extra bad laid out with her nightshirt. The caregiver tells me that when she gets there in the morning, my mother has just has the pad between her legs. Luckily, I have cloth waterproof pads both under and over her bottom sheet and about 5 Chux type pads over that. The doctor says she has some vascular dementia and she will curse and be very insulting at times when the worker tries to coax her into taking a shower. Mother says she gets too cold but I have 3 portable heaters going and it has to be 90 degrees in the bathroom. She doesn't even want the help to use the pre impregnated towelettes to wipe her off.One of the psychiatric nurses who comes to check on her thinks she has more depression than dementia because another of my brothers moved himself,his wife and child into her house without her permission and I think she thinks she has given up control of her house. I know I veered from the first part of the discussion on incontinence but do you have any suggestions.

over 6 years, said...

My husband isn't incontinent, but is having fecal accidents away from home - I wish there were more family restrooms available so I could go in with him and help him. He forgets and rises from the seat before he is finished with a BM and drips all over himself and the floor. I have had to enlist an employee in a couple of stores to hold the door for me while I clean him up. I'm not sure if a diaper would even help.

over 6 years, said...

My son uses incontinence because of neurological issue and true, I went on a lot of trial and error to find the right brand for him. I sometimes double up if we go out in public (makes changing easier).

over 6 years, said...

Listings of some of the best brands in each category!!

almost 7 years, said...

A visual guide as to what's available is also helpful. www.totalhomecaresupplies.com offers a chart-style guide to show product features for diapers, pull-ups, bladder control pads, protective underwear, and belted/beltless undergarments. Here's a link to view this helpful incontinence product selector chart that you may copy and paste to your browser: http://www.totalhomecaresupplies.com/Content.aspx?PageName=Resources_Incontinence_Selection_Guide

about 7 years, said...

My mom has incontinence, both urinary and bowel. She doesn't seem aware of either one happening...especially the bm. At 88 she has a number of physical limitations due to neuropathy and back / neck problems. She is in assisted living, but the staff are not happy with her incontinence. She is on blood pressure and blood thinning medications. Are there suggestions for products or medical procedures that might help her. She is embarrassed, but can't help her leakages.

about 7 years, said...


over 7 years, said...

I'm temporarily fecal incontinent following surgery 3 wks ago. Since I'm part time back @ work, I found a maxi-pad inside a pullup diaper works well for me. I can take my diaper bag to the washroom as soon as I feel, hear or smell discharge, just change the pad, cleanup with a purse pack or wipes, pack out my smelly stuff in a ziplock bag and I'm good to work vertically longer. Feel cleaner, less obstrusive in office and thriftier (than changing pullups @ work5-6x in 4 hours). Now, if I could just find a way around the pain... :)