If This Happens to You in the Bathroom, It May Be a Sign of Dementia
It's one of the most common symptoms of the condition.
Dementia affects people's lives in many different ways, from causing physical and psychological distress to impacting their social and economic standing. But recognizing the early signs of the condition means getting access to help and treatment sooner, which could lead to a better outcome (although there is no cure for dementia).
Dementia is on the rise, with the World Health Organization reporting that there are 10 million new cases of dementia every year. Read on to find out what common dementia symptom people often experience in the bathroom—and how to deal with it if it happens to you or someone you love.
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Problems in the bathroom can signal cognitive decline.
Memory loss isn't the only form of cognitive decline associated with dementia. Dementia also causes the brain to send haywire messages that can disrupt normal bodily functions, such as recognizing when you have to go to the bathroom. Many people with dementia experience "urge incontinence"— the sudden and intense need to urinate and the inability to hold it long enough to make it to a toilet.
Signs of dementia-related incontinence include not realizing you need to urinate, forgetting to go to the bathroom, or being unable to find the toilet.
Incontinence is common in people with dementia.
"Incontinence in people with dementia is very common," says Paul Thompson, MD, a urologist with Launch Medical. "In most cases, urinary incontinence appears first, followed by fecal incontinence as dementia [progresses]." More than half of people with dementia experience urinary problems, including incontinence and urinary tract infections, according to a June 2021 article published in Advances in Urology. This can be psychologically and socially troubling for not only the person with dementia, but also for their families and caregivers.
Certain factors an increase the risk of dementia-related incontinence, including having a pre-existing medical condition, regular use of sleeping pills or anxiety medications that relax the bladder, and wearing restrictive clothing that's hard to remove. Thompson notes that prior surgeries, such as a hysterectomy or colon procedure, can also elevate the risk of developing incontinence.
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Dealing with bathroom accidents is challenging for patients and caregivers alike.
Although bathroom-related accidents can be embarrassing, it's important to understand that they are normal and common when dealing with dementia. There's no need to feel ashamed or guilty; in fact, clear and open communication is essential, to the extent that it is possible. If you're caring for someone with dementia, offer regular bathroom breaks and reminders to use the restroom.
"Make sure the bathroom is easily accessible and regularly remind the patient to use the restroom, even if they don't have to go," advises Thompson. "Give them plenty of time to use the restroom. Incontinence pads and mattress covers are also helpful, as it's more difficult to control the bladder at night." Nonverbal cues that someone may need to use the toilet include pacing, restlessness, or making faces.
Drinking plenty of water is important—especially for people with dementia.
Dehydration can result in urinary tract infections, which further increase the risk of incontinence. "In people with dementia, especially older people, make sure they're drinking plenty of fluids (six to eight glasses per day) and taking regular restroom breaks to keep them from holding it in for too long," Thompson recommends. "Also, cut back on caffeine and chocolate that stimulate the [urge to urinate]."
For anyone to maintain good bladder health and prevent bladder control problems, whether they're at risk of dementia or not, it's important to stay hydrated, eat a healthy diet, and maintain a healthy weight. Families and caregivers can educate themselves in order to better assist people with dementia in going to the bathroom, and remember to be respectful and understanding when accidents happen.
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