Incontinence is a tough subject to talk about but it’s an important conversation to have. Learn how to talk to a family member about incontinence and steps you can then take.

Incontinence is a very common condition. In fact, urinary incontinence is said to affect approximately 14 million people in the UK alone, while nearly half a million people are estimated to experience some form of bowel incontinence. 

However, despite these high figures, many people who struggle with incontinence can be reluctant to talk about it. This can be for all sorts of reasons, such as embarrassment or generational differences. At the same time, family members may find it hard to broach the subject as well, either due to the nature of their relationship or a lack of knowledge about the condition. 

But talking about incontinence is an important step towards getting your loved one the help they need, and preventing them from suffering in silence.  

In this blog post, we’ll provide you with some practical tips on how to approach a family member you believe may have incontinence with sensitivity and a positive mindset. We’ll also outline the steps you can take to help your loved one manage their condition. 

Conversation tips 

While incontinence may be a tough subject to talk about, if you believe your family member is experiencing incontinence, having that difficult conversation can make a huge difference to their overall wellbeing. It can feel tricky to start the conversation so you might want to try using an article, leaflet or advert as a prompt for the initial chat. 

Acknowledging that it’s an awkward topic can make the conversation a little easier for those who don’t like talking about bathroom habits. 

Try starting with: ‘I know we don’t really like talking about bladder and bowel issues, but…’. Letting your family member know that you understand it’s a difficult subject from the start can make them feel more at ease as they’ll understand it’s tough for you too. 

Leading the conversations with curiosity can also be a good place to start. For example, phrases like ‘I’m wondering if you might want to talk about anything bladder and bowel-related?’, or ‘If you were to have any additional support, what do you think would be the most helpful?’ can open the conversation up more easily. It can also encourage your family member to feel more involved in their healthcare decisions instead of feeling forced into admitting to a condition they already are embarrassed about. 

Make sure your family member knows you are there to support them and that they don’t need to try and cope with it alone. A good way to let them know is by saying: ‘I’ve noticed you’re dealing with this by yourself. Is there any way I can help?’.  

Remind them that incontinence is a very common problem and that there is plenty of help available. 

Another important aspect when talking about incontinence is to mirror the language your family member uses. For instance, if they refer to it as ’pee’ instead of ’urine’, match the terminology they use.  

Using language that is too formal could also make your conversation feel too clinical if your family member doesn’t usually talk in that way.   

It can also help to start the conversation side by side rather than face to face, for example, while out on a walk or in the car. Being side by side stops the conversation feeling like an interrogation and your family member may be more comfortable opening up. 

What is needed for a positive conversation? 

Making the conversation about incontinence a positive one gets you both off to a good start. Don’t rush the conversation and make sure to talk to them when you know you won’t be interrupted. It’s important to give the conversation the time and attention it needs. 

It’s also important for your loved one to feel relaxed, in control and free from judgement during your conversation. So, try not to talk about their situation with other people without their consent. Even though it may be coming from a place of love and concern, if your loved one found out, it could make them feel embarrassed or reluctant to talk about it at all.  

It can be useful to explain to your family member that incontinence is just like any other health problem, and encourage them to talk about it with their loved ones even if they feel embarrassed.

To ensure the conversation stays positive, maintain a sense of dignity and privacy throughout and respect their decisions. Keep the conversation confidential but let them know the door is always open if they want to discuss it further. 

Next steps 

Knowing what to do next is important for both you and your family member. This way, the conversation will be seen as productive and help promote their independence. One of the most important first steps they can take is to see a healthcare professional to rule out any potential underlying health conditions. 

Let your family member know there is a lot that can be done to help with incontinence. Even something as simple as assisting them when booking an appointment with the doctor can be enough for them to regain some confidence and control over their health.  

Arming yourself with information about incontinence before you have a conversation with your family member can also help you support them in making an informed decision. By ensuring they have more knowledge of their condition, they may feel confident enough to speak with you and a healthcare professional further.  

Helping them choose the right incontinence product can also be a big help. With so many options available, your loved one may feel overwhelmed. But by sharing the job between the two of you, they will feel supported and more secure in their decision. 

Visit Bowel & Bladder UK for printable resources which you can offer to your family member. They could read them in their own time and then talk with you about it afterwards.  

With different resources, you can provide them with a range of options and methods of support. Whether it’s their GP, a continence nurse, Bowel & Bladder UK or elsewhere, with the right help, your family member can feel confident in their incontinence management.

The impact of incontinence on families and support networks

This article is part of our ‘Impact of incontinence campaign’, supported by Attends. You can also read more about incontinence in our information library on our website here.

We are on a mission to shine a light on the impact of incontinence on families and support networks. Hearing from you would help us better understand the challenges people face when supporting someone with incontinence, and what would help the most.

You can fill out our anonymous survey here to share your experiences.

Find more information about the campaign on the impact of incontinence on families on the campaign hub page here.


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