How can I tell whether my father's incontinence after his stroke is temporary?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My father is scheduled to come home from the hospital next week, and I'm very concerned because he's still wetting the bed. Is he permanently incontinent or will things improve?

Expert Answer

James Castle, M.D. is a neurologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem (affiliated with The University of Chicago) and an expert on strokes.

Incontinence is quite common after a stroke. It's not unusual for a stroke victim to require a great deal of assistance with going to the bathroom; some even require a diaper.

As with any deficit after a stroke, the recovery period is different for everyone, and the problem is often greatest early on.

To be on the safe side, your father should have a thorough evaluation by his internist and possibly even a urologist. If he's having significant urinary retention -- in other words, he's not able to completely empty his bladder -- this is serious and requires medical treatment. If his problem is that he can't get to the toilet easily, improvement should come with physical rehabilitation.

In either case, talk to your father's doctors, nurses, and therapists before he leaves the hospital. Make sure that you understand how to care for your father and his bathroom needs before he goes home.