Incontinence is a difficult condition that can leave many people feeling embarrassed. Learn how to spot some of the signs that someone in your family needs support.

Incontinence is a common issue that can affect people of all ages. But incontinence doesn’t affect everyone and is not an inevitability of ageing.  

There are also varying degrees of the condition, with some people only experiencing small leaks now and then, while others can lose control of their bladder or bowel completely if unable to reach a bathroom in time. 

In this article, we discuss the signs of incontinence across all age ranges. We also provide you with practical tips on how to support family members with incontinence and some of the best preventative measures that can be used to help.  

Signs to look out for in people of all ages

A lot of people will often feel embarrassed about their incontinence, and it is common for people of all ages dealing with incontinence to hide the fact there is a problem at all. 

When this happens, your loved one won’t receive the help and support they need to manage their condition, which can worsen their condition and lead to increased feelings of anxiety and isolation.  

If you discover one of your family members is dealing with incontinence, it’s normal to feel stressed about the situation – especially if you’re going to be caring for them. It’s important your family member doesn’t feel ‘caught out’ or as though there is something to feel ashamed of.  

People with incontinence deserve the same dignity and respect as those without the condition, so knowing how to support them during such a challenging time is essential.  

Some of the key signs of incontinence – to look out for in people of all ages – can include:  

  • Choosing different drinks – for example, drinking decaffeinated drinks instead 
  • Stopping drinking after a certain time of day 
  • Hiding incontinence products  
  • Being secretive about going to the bathroom 
  • A smell on their person or in their home 
  • A strong scent of cleaning products in the bathroom on a regular basis 
  • Personal hygiene issues 
  • Staining of their underwear 
  • Frequent changing or washing of clothes 
  • Buying toilet rolls more often due to increased use 
  • Finding tissue in their underwear or washing machine 
  • Avoiding social situations 
  • New changes to their diet 
  • Carrying spare clothes whenever they leave the house 
  • Going to the toilet more frequently 
  • Needing to get to the bathroom quickly 
  • Staying in the bathroom for longer than usual 
  • Using sanitary pads 
  • Wearing more than one pair of underwear 
  • Changes in their mood 
  • Finding laxatives in their home that weren’t there before 

If you spot any of these signs, it’s important to speak with your family member in a way that displays empathy, sensitivity and understanding.  

Try to have possible solutions and support in mind before having the conversation. That way, you can help give your loved one hope and ensure they feel fully supported.

Incontinence in children

Children can also experience incontinence. Although you might think it’s easier to spot, children are still good at hiding things they are embarrassed about.  

Here are some signs that a child might need help with their incontinence: 

  • Finding wet or soiled underwear 
  • Denying wetting or soiling themselves despite their underwear or bedding being wet or soiled 
  • Needing to use the toilet more often  
  • Often needing to go at the last minute  
  • Withholding (standing or sitting in different positions, such as with their legs crossed, to prevent accidents) 
  • Avoiding social situations, especially ones like sleepovers or school trips  
  • Excessive use of sanitary products  
  • Needing to leave the classroom a lot to use the bathroom 
  • Trying to avoid going to school – such as claiming to be unwell or becoming angry in the mornings or Sunday evenings

It’s worth remembering that bullying and mental health problems can be linked to incontinence in children. Sometimes changes in behaviour can be misconstrued as ‘naughtiness’. However this isn’t the case; incontinence can not only cause feelings of shame in children but also cause them to behave in ways that they feel will be most helpful to manage the wetting or soiling.

What to do next

If you think a family member or someone close to you is struggling with incontinence, it’s important to talk to them about it from a place of understanding and sincerity. Try to encourage them to speak with a healthcare professional as well so that they can get the support they need.  

If they are embarrassed about the situation, you could even offer to assist them when talking to the healthcare professional. 

In our article, How to talk to a family member about incontinence, we provide further tips and information on how best to approach this difficult subject, such as finding out more information and researching different incontinence products to help them manage the incontinence while they wait for assessment and treatment.  

Doing your own research, for example, can help ease the pressure on your family member’s shoulders. By providing them with options you can help them feel less overwhelmed and ensure they are on the way to getting the right support for them.

Bladder & Bowel UK is a registered charity that has multiple resources to help loved ones support and spot signs of incontinence in both adults and children. They also have a confidential helpline where you can receive specialist continence advice. 

Finding support for both you and your loved one is important when dealing with incontinence. Whether you help them speak to a healthcare professional or find the right incontinence product, showing that you’re there for them can make a big difference. 

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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