Your loved one is calling you in the middle of the night. Groggily, you hurry to their room. The odor that greets you makes your heart sink. Maybe you wonder, “Can I handle this too?”
Taking care of a loved one with fecal incontinence can be very stressful and embarrassing for both of you. Even if managing fecal incontinence never becomes easy, you can make it routine by using tips and best practices that experienced health care professionals use.
What is Fecal Incontinence?
When a person has fecal incontinence, it means they are not able to control their bowel movements. In other words, they can’t stop the stool (feces) leaving the rectum. The problem can range from a person having feces leak when they pass gas, to being unable to control normal bowel movements, to episodes of diarrhea they are unable control. Fecal incontinence is more common among women (due to childbirth and hormonal changes after menopause) and older adults. It can also be caused by:
- Constipation, which weakens the intestinal walls and causes watery stools to leak around a large blockage of stoolcalled a fecal impaction;
- Diarrhea, which makes it harder to control stool;
- Surgery, rectal prolapse or damage to the muscles or nerves of the rectum.
7 Tips for Managing Fecal Incontinence
Does fecal incontinence make you feel out of control? Luckily, best practices used by nurses can help you develop a management plan. Here are their tips:
- Record Information in a Diary: Knowledge is power, so start by gathering information about your loved one’s eating habits and bowel movements in a diary. This diary may show patterns that can help you adjust your loved one’s diet to make the situation better. You can also use the diary to show their doctor. In many cases, the underlying causes of fecal incontinence can be treated and symptoms eliminated or decreased. Information you should write down in the diary:
- Food: What and when did they eat or drink?
- Stools: When did they have a bowel movement? What was the consistency? How much?
- Increase Liquid and Fiber Intake: Because constipation can be a significant cause of fecal incontinence, be sure your loved one gets enough liquid and fiber. Check with their doctor, but typically adults should have six to eight 8 ounce glasses of water-based liquids such as water, and fruit (especially prune) or vegetable juices. Avoiding milk and limiting caffeine can be helpful. Be careful with citrus-based fluids as they can cause bladderirritability in some people. Increasing fiber can help stools stay soft. Along with high-fiber foods, you can give your loved one fiber supplements like high-fiber bars, candies, or even dissolvable powders.
- Control Diarrhea: If your loved one has problems with loose stools, be sure to discuss this with their doctor. Foods that can help are applesauce and rice. Avoid spicy or fried foods. Diarrhea in older people can be dangerous, so be sure to check with their health care provider right away, especially if your loved one has been on antibiotics.
- Make Elimination Routine: If your loved one can tell you they need to use the toilet, take them there as soon as possible. Use easy to remove clothing such as pants with an elastic waistband. If they can’t tell you when they need to go to the bathroom, use the information in your diary to create a routine of going to the toilet at times they are most likely to have a bowel movement.
- Use Adult Pads or Briefs: Often using adult pads or briefs is a good idea to protect your loved one from accidents and to make clean-up easier. Absorbent disposable undergarments helpprotect fragile skin by keeping feces and moisture away.
- Useful supplies: Using an odor neutralizing spray before and after a diaper change can be Have a plastic bag handy to place the soiled diaper, and close it securely.
- Protect Fragile Skin: Fecal matter has digestive enzymes and bacteria that can quickly damage your loved one’s fragile skin. Skin irritation, diap er rash (also known as incontinence associated dermatitis (IAD), fungal infection, and bed sores (pressure ulcers) can be a serious complication of this problem. Protect your loved one’s skin by:
- Changing adult diapers as soon as possible using cleaning products specifically designed for fragile skin. A no-rinse, pH-balanced skin cleansing foam is especially effective;
- Inspecting the skin area carefully at every diaper change for damage;
- Applying protectant skin barrier products for fragile skin after every change.
Managing your loved one’s fecal incontinence might always be your least favorite task of caregiving. That’s okay. Remember, you can do it. In the process of helping your loved one stay clean and healthy, you are also showing them how much you care about them.