Updated: Dec 3, 2020
“Mom, grandma is in the bathroom—again!” These may be frequently-uttered words in your house while your parents are staying (or living) with you. And for seniors, bathrooms are a big deal. Your senior parents may have special needs of which you’re not aware. Whether you have multiple bathrooms in your house, or you have just one to share, you may need to plan or adjust the bathroom scenarios in your household during this period of social isolation.
Remember, seniors don’t get many choices when it comes to planning—their internal organs don’t work like yours anymore. Whether from medications, underlying conditions, or simple aging, there are many reasons your parents may need extra time in the bathroom. Today, in my continuing series of blogs on adjusting to your live-in senior parents, I’d like to address a few of the most common reasons why seniors need more bathroom time, and how to we can make it easier on them and your entire family. Stay with me…while some of these topics aren’t exactly suitable for the dinner table, I will share helpful tips to make this situation better for all.
Reason #1 – Urinary Incontinence (UI)
In my last blog, we talked about how your parents still need to feel in control of things. Needless to say, it’s difficult (and embarrassing) to not be able to control when you have to urinate. Incontinence can be the result of many different things, including one’s diet, a urinary tract infection (UTI), medications, and even constipation. Three of the more common types of incontinence seniors experience include:
Stress incontinence – pressure exerted on the bladder brought on by coughing, sneezing, laughing, or even lifting things
Urge incontinence – a sudden urge to go caused by a variety of reasons, including an overactive bladder, an infection, or other more serious conditions
Overflow incontinence – a result of the bladder not emptying itself completely
Regardless of which type(s) of incontinence your parents may be experiencing, here are a few things you can do to help improve the situation:
Diet – There are several things that can actually irritate the bladder. Try removing or limiting the following to improve bladder health: caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, citrus fruits, carbonated drinks (including fizzy water), and spicy foods. I know this list probably has some of mom & dad’s favorites on there, so take these foods one at a time so they don’t feel deprived of the foods and drinks that make them happy.
Water and Fluids – Believe it or not, drinking enough water can actually help with incontinence, especially if they’re dealing with an overactive bladder. When you don’t drink enough water, your urine becomes very concentrated and that can irritate the bladder.It also increases the likelihood of constipation (which can also cause incontinence) and can cause the body to retain fluids (which could then cause the need for diuretics). It’s important to find a good balance. In addition to non-carbonated water, apple juice, pear juice, and herbal teas are all bladder-friendly—and tasty.
Healthy Weight – This is, of course, an excellent idea in general, but can also help reduce the effects of UI. When one is overweight, more pressure is put on the bladder and its surrounding muscles and can cause mom to leak a little when she coughs, sneezes, or laughs.
Pelvic Floor Exercises – Exercises to strengthen one’s pelvic floor muscles are a great way to get your parents off the couch, moving, and strengthening the muscles that control urinary flow. Be sure to check with your parents’ physician before starting these exercises. You can even do the exercises with them. After all, you’ll be their age one day!
Reason #2 – Constipation
Another reason your parents may be spending more time in the bathroom is that they are having trouble “going.” Like incontinence, constipation can be caused by several different factors, including diet, medications, changes in routine, and various other lifestyle choices. Being constipated can also cause other issues, including a loss of appetite and, as noted above, incontinence.
You can help relieve your parents’ constipation by encouraging the following:
Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, will help prevent constipation and may help keep them regular.
Don’t resist the urge to go. Waiting for a “better” time to go can actually cause them to back up more. Encourage them to go when they need to and give them the time needed to take care of business. You can even set aside a special time each day (maybe 30 minutes after their breakfast) to make the bathroom available to them so they know they’re not inconveniencing others.
Adjust your diet. Find ways to increase your parents’ fiber intake. More than a bran muffin, Mother Nature provides many foods that are high in fiber. Vegetables high in fiber include asparagus, brussels sprouts, and carrots. Fresh and dried fruits are also a great source of fiber. (A note about bananas: unripe bananas can actually cause constipation, but ripe bananas can actually relieve it.) Also reduce the amount of meats, dairy products, and processed foods. These are all low in fiber and tend to be higher in unhealthy fats.
Exercise regularly. When your body moves, your bowels move. You know I’m a big proponent of moving, and even simple things like taking a short walk, gardening, or yoga will help.
Add a mild laxative to their daily routine. Laxatives, as a relief of occasional constipation, can be effective to getting things moving again. Be sure to follow instructions and drink plenty of fluids. Do be careful, though: using laxatives (or enemas) too often can cause the body to forget how to work or become dependent on them. Check with their doctor if you think they’re overusing them.
Reason #3 – Something Non-Physical
Of course, there are numerous other possible reasons your parents are in the bathroom as much as they are—some which are quite harmless and others you might want to monitor.
For some, it’s quiet time (especially if they’re introverted and you have a household of energetic little ones). This could be the few minutes they need to recharge.
For others, it may be their routine. (“Dad always reads a chapter while he goes.”)
In cases like these, try and find other spaces in your house for them to get the time they need to do these other things.
It could also be an issue of memory; perhaps they don’t remember having gone to the bathroom 5 minutes ago. Or maybe they’ve started taking a new medication. Or maybe they’re just anxious about having an accident.
Regardless of the reason(s) your parents are spending so much time in the bathroom, it’s important to remember that they’re likely not doing any of this intentionally. Pull other members of your family aside and have a private conversation about why grandma and grandpa need extra time in the bathroom. Always speak kindly, and when feeling frustrated, take a deep breath before responding. You’ve got this, Wellness Warrior!
In my next blog, I’ll be sharing about Mom and Dad affinity for naps!
As always, Live Well, Live Long!