Maintaining a healthy bladder and bowels

Keeping the bladder, urinary tract and bowels healthy is a good first step to preventing toilet problems and incontinence. Here we share some tips to help a person with dementia, and some information on constipation.

Tips to help a person with dementia maintain a healthy bladder and bowels

  • Encourage the person to drink throughout the day. The recommended amount is six to eight glasses of liquids each day – more if the person has hard poo. Not drinking enough liquids can cause constipation.
  • Support the person to eat a balanced diet with ideally five daily portions of fruit and vegetables, and enough fibre to help regular bowel movements. Fibre can be found in cereals, brown rice and potatoes, for example. 
  • Keep active. Walking every day (if the person is able to) helps with regular bowel movements.
  • Try to build going to the toilet into the person’s routine, and allow enough time for the person to empty their bowels. 

If a health professional thinks the person with dementia might have an overactive bladder, they will suggest avoiding drinks that can irritate the bladder. This could include replacing tea, coffee, cola or alcohol with water, herbal teas, squash and diluted fruit juices.

Women in the early stages of dementia who have urinary stress incontinence sometimes learn how to practise pelvic floor exercises, with the support of a continence adviser (a specialist nurse or physiotherapist). These exercises aim to reduce stress incontinence, caused by weakness of the pelvic floor muscles due to childbirth or ageing.

Constipation

Laxatives

If the person with dementia has constipation, laxatives may help. Laxatives are medication designed to ease constipation and are available without a prescription over the counter.

However, they should not be used for more than a week without seeking help from a GP or pharmacist, as constipation may be caused by something serious that needs professional advice.

Massaging techniques

If constipation is the cause of faecal incontinence, it is possible to massage the person’s stomach to ease the blockage. Continence advisers can train you to use this technique.

However, it may not be suitable for everyone. The person with dementia may not like the sensation, so don’t continue if it is making them distressed or uncomfortable.

Remember that some people with dementia may indicate how they are feeling through facial expressions, sounds or body language.

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