How to Talk to Your Elderly Loved One about Incontinence

If your elderly loved one suffers from incontinence, then it may be impossible to ignore. The odor, the mess and the cleanup can all be glaringly obvious signs that something is wrong. Ironically, the subject seems to be one that is often ignored in households. Many children of elderly parents do not want to bring up the subject because they do not want to embarrass their parents. Talking to an elderly loved one about their incontinence issues could be embarrassing for them and for you. It is also an awkward subject that many people do not want to discuss. However, often, the issue becomes such a big problem that it must be addressed. If this sounds familiar, then keep reading to learn how to talk about this sensitive subject with your loved ones.

Before You Say Anything

Having a successful conversation about incontinence with your loved one begins with careful thinking. The first step in having a successful conversation is to know your role and to understand your final goal. Know the role that you play in your elderly loved one’s life. If you want to help them with their incontinence, then you want to be perceived as a helpful person. For this reason, you do not want to be the person’s adversary. It may be a good idea to bring in a third party to the situation in order to address the issue. This sidesteps the arguments that may occur if only you approach your loved one. Bringing in an outside health professional,  another family member or a close friend your elderly loved one feels comfortable with can help you have a calm conversation with your loved one about their incontinence issue. If you are frustrated about the issue, then it will not be possible for you to sit calmly and be helpful. An outside, third party, can help you achieve the calming, helpful presence that you desire to have. Secondly, understand your final goal in having the conversation. You may have already decided that diapers may be the best option for your loved one, but they may not want to wear diapers. Instead, set a goal to help your loved one fix or correct their issue. The first step in doing that is a visit to their doctor. Sometimes an incontinence issue is a medical issue that can be fixed. If your elderly loved one is suffering from a medical issue, then the right medications may be able to fix that and their incontinence issue may go away. If not, then a doctor may be able to better approach the issue of adult diapers and convince them to wear them.

Set up the Conversation

Before you have the incontinence conversation with your loved one, there are a few things you can do to set up the conversation for success. First, figure out who is going to do all of the talking. If you do decide to bring a third party person into the conversation, then decide if they will be doing all of the talking. If not, then determine if you or someone else in the family is going to start and end the conversation. Secondly, pick a pleasant time for you and your loved one. Potentially awkward conversations tend to go a lot better whenever your loved one is doing an activity that they enjoy. Pleasant walk in the park, engaging in a hobby or playing cards are activities that your loved one may enjoy. Talking about their issues during these activities, can help them feel comfortable and safe during the conversation. Lastly, before having the conversation, rehearse your tone. If you are going to talk at any time during the conversation then you should rehearse what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. If you are frustrated about their incontinence issue, then you may come across as abrasive or mean during the conversation. Practice your tone so that you can come off calm and helpful during the conversation.

The Conversation

Whenever it is time to have the conversation with your loved one about their incontinence issue, you can start it in a variety of ways. The best way is to be gentle and empathetic. This will make your loved one more comfortable and less embarrassed. Next, talk to your loved one honestly and tell them your concerns. Give them honest, detailed observations of what you have seen in their home, and tell them about the frequency and nature of their accidents. If they do not feel embarrassed and feel comfortable with you, then they may agree with you and be receptive to hear more. If not, then at this point in the conversation they may begin to deny their issue. If they deny the issue, then keep going. Talk to them about their symptoms and be sympathetic. Use phrases and terminology that make your loved one feel comfortable. Overall, your goal should be to normalize incontinence. Do not make them feel ashamed or ostracized due to their issue. If you can normalize incontinence, then you can make them feel more comfortable and less ashamed about their issue.


Incontinence is an awkward issue to discuss, for you and your loved one. However, if you follow these tips, then you can easily have a conversation with your loved one about their incontinence issues. First, start with the right thought process. Think about the role you wish to play in your loved one’s issues, and decide if you want to bring a third party into the conversation. If you do, then decide who the third party will be. Health professional, another family member or your elderly loved one’s close friend may be great options for mediators during this tough conversation. Next, decide what your final goal will be in having this conversation, and try not to make your goal biased towards your needs. Then, make your loved one comfortable by doing an activity with them that they enjoy. During this activity, begin the conversation very slowly and very gently. Make them comfortable and empathize with them so that they do not feel ashamed. Finally, try to normalize the issue. If you can normalize their incontinence issue then they will feel less ashamed about their issue. Once they become more receptive to the conversation then you can suggest a variety of options for your loved one. The best option is to visit their doctor first. Their doctor can determine if a medical issue is the underlying reason for their incontinence and offer treatment options for their incontinence. Even if it is not determined to be caused by a medical issue, doctors may be the best people to breach the subject of adult diapers with your loved one.

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