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Talking About Incontinence
Getting the Conversation Started

It's taboo, it's awkward, it's the elephant in the room: Incontinence. Yet if someone you love has it, you'll have to bring it up sooner or later. But it doesn't have to be an uncomfortable word. It's all in how you frame the issue.

While it may at first seem like a murky area to venture into, the bright side is that you've got a lot working in your favor — from the fact that adult incontinence is not uncommon, to the likelihood that your loved one is aware of the issue but embarrassed to mention it without a gentle nudge. Those newly experiencing unexpected leaks may not be aware of the many options to help them carry on with a full and fearless life. And after all, the whole point of having "the talk" is to find a solution, whether it's a doctor's visit to get to the root cause, setting up a bathroom schedule to beat the leak, or finding the perfect personal care product to ensure comfort, confidence and carefree living.

Still, broaching the subject can be tough. Below are some suggestions and tips for mentioning this hard-to-raise topic.

Don't Put Off the Talk

If you know leaks are interfering in your loved one's life, don't wait to have the conversation. Ignoring the problem doesn't make it go away and can actually make the initial discussion that much harder, as anticipation grows. And remember, the sooner you say something, the sooner your loved one will be feeling free again.

Consider Your Loved One's Feelings

Embarrassment, frustration, guilt: These are completely natural emotions for someone who has been having accidents. And no one ever expects it to happen to them. So before you dive into a dialogue with your loved one, first consider how she might be feeling. Understanding her mind-set about the situation can aid you in choosing an angle or approach to help her master her challenges — or at least in having that first one-on-one chat.

Choose an approach.

Since you're the one bringing up the topic, it's on you to set the tone of conversation. It's normal to be embarrassed, but if you're feeling awkward, then your loved one is going to respond in a similar way. On the other hand, if you're fearless in facing the facts — as well as the possible solutions — then your optimism will help your loved one feel secure and in control. There are a number of approaches you can take, so choose one that best suits the situation. Possible approaches include:

  • Matter of fact

    To the point, but without making it a big deal. Weave it into a conversation you're already having so there's no hyping up of the issue. Addressing it as just another, non-taboo topic can be incredibly confidence building.

  • Heart to heart

    Still candid, but with an edge of concern and empathy. You're having this talk because you care. You want comfort and control back in your loved one's life as much for you as for her.

  • Humorous

    Making light of the facts of life. While humor certainly isn't for everyone, for some it's an easier way into an earnest conversation. Sometimes a little laughter can help renew lighthearted living.

Choose a focus of the conversation.

Choosing a focal point can center the conversation and lighten any feelings of blame or indignity that the person you care for might be experiencing. No matter your approach, make sure your loved one knows that you are there for her — you both want back the control that allows her to live comfortably and worry free. Suggestions include:

  • Stress the normalcy

    Introduce incontinence in a way that doesn't single out your loved one. It will help lift any guilt she may be carrying. It's a common condition, with one in five adults over age 40 being subject to leakage at some point in time, according to the National Association for Incontinence's 2014 article "What Is Incontinence?". Likewise, if your goal is to present possible products to catch the unexpected leak, choose commonplace terms like briefs or overnight underwear, instead of diapers.

  • Emphasize that it's not her fault

    Adult incontinence is a medical condition, which means it’s not your loved one's fault. Stroke, diabetes, certain surgeries and dementia are just a few of the conditions that can cause loss of bladder control, which means there's often a treatment to help stop the leaks, according to "The Basic Types of Urinary Incontinence," a 2014 article by the National Association for Incontinence. Hearing this may be exactly what your loved one needs in order to swap out some shame for self-assurance.

  • Offer an immediate/interim solution

    If a longer-term solution isn't right around the corner, you can still offer immediate carefree control. There are a host of products specifically designed with comfort and style in mind for this very reason, from light liners to overnight briefs. And it is possible to get free product trials to find the right fit. TENA® provides multiple products in one trial kit so your loved one can experiment. There's nothing like an immediate, tangible solution for boosting self-assurance.

Choose a conversation starter

Breaking the ice is the hardest part, so if it helps, prepare yourself with a one-liner to lead with. Once the unspeakable is spoken, each subsequent conversation will be easier. For example:

"I can tell you've been feeling bad about how often we've had to change the sheets lately. It upsets me to see you feel that way. Did you know there are overnight briefs you can wear to help"

(Heart-to-heart/immediate solution)

"Speaking of dinner plans, I’ve noticed you've been declining invitations lately. If it's because you're worried about having an accident, we can do something about it — there's usually a medical reason, so there's no reason you have to give up the things you love doing."


"So, you know that ad we just watched for personal care products? I'm thinking you might audition at the next casting call. Your face would look fabulous on-screen. Seriously, though, the commercials exist because it's something a lot of people deal with."


Keep the Conversation Going

Deciding together on a plan will help get your loved one on a path to a solution and set the stage for follow-up conversations. Your loved one will need your support and encouragement as she navigates this new lifestyle. Once you have broken the ice the first time, it will be easier to talk about it down the road. Possible steps in managing communication include the following:

Step 1: Gather Information
  • Ask your loved one questions about her symptoms. For example, when did the leaks start? When do they tend to happen? Are the leaks light or heavy? Are there any patterns or triggers? The more information you have, the better you can help your loved one find the best incontinence products and determine the frequency of daily changes needed.

  • Consider speaking to an expert. Reaching out to your family member’s health care provider can help answer questions you both may have and can help address any underlying medical conditions. Speak with a nurse or other provider before the visit to see what kind of patient information might be needed, such as a detailed medical history and medication list. During the visit, questions to ask a provider include:

    • What is causing the incontinence? Are there any medical causes that should be addressed?
    • Are there foods, drinks or activities that should be avoided?
    • Are there exercises that can help with bladder control?

  • Your loved one’s health care provider may ask questions about symptoms to determine the type of incontinence and the treatment plan:

    • Urge incontinence involves a strong, sudden need to urinate that results in a leak before a person can get to the bathroom.
    • Stress incontinence occurs during certain activities such as coughing, sneezing or laughing.
    • Overflow incontinence is the result of the bladder not completely emptying, resulting in leaks.
    • Mixed incontinence involves more than one type of incontinence.

Friends and other caregivers can provide support as you do your research. Ask, for example, how did others approach the subject of incontinence with those needing care? Which products worked best for certain situations? Are there any recommended resources? Blogs, discussion boards for caregivers and product reviews are a great additional resource if you want to ask questions anonymously or if you would like to hear additional perspectives. In addition, providing input and sharing your own story may help alleviate the stress that can lead to caregiver burnout.

Request and try product trial kits. Get your loved one signed up right away. Free trials can be shipped discreetly to her home in just days. Make sure your loved one tries on several products for comparison.

Ask her, for example:

  • What feels good? What doesn’t?
  • Do the products provide the right level of absorption?
  • Are each of the products better for different occasions?
  • Do certain clothes work better for specific products?

Step 2: Put a Plan in Place Together
  • If applicable, start an exercise regiment and diet to help your loved one prevent leaks. Exercises that improve bladder control, and dietary changes such as avoiding trigger foods and drinks altogether, or close to bedtime, can help minimize leaks and help her have some control over the situation.
  • If regular doctor visits are necessary, help your loved one schedule those appointments so that she doesn’t forget.
  • Make a smart purchase: Order an adequate supply of products for different situations so that your loved one will not be without protection. Help her find discreet places, such as trusted websites, where she is comfortable purchasing products.
Step 3: Set a Time to Follow Up
  • Set up a time together to discuss these new lifestyle changes once your loved one has experimented with this new personal care routine. Picking a date and time in advance can help open the door to a subsequent conversation and can provide motivation.
  • Additional follow-up conversations can be triggered by events such as a doctor’s visit, medication changes or prescription refills, or a need to purchase more personal care products. As your loved one gains confidence and comfort in her new routine, these conversations will become easier!
  • When all is said and done, incontinence can be an afterthought instead of a burden. It requires acknowledgment and action to take control. You can be the motivator who helps your loved one feel fearless about getting back her life with both confidence and enthusiasm.


“ I have complete confidence in this pad. If there's an overflow of sneezes. I would highly recommend this product! ”

- TENA® Customer in Wales,WI

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