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My loved one has mental health challenges

Older woman sitting with younger woman – how to care for a loved one with mental health challenges
The level of support your loved one needs depends on their mental condition as well as their physical health.
 
You might have found they’re unable to cope with things like they used to. For example, maybe they forget things. Or miss visits to the toilet. Or have dramatic mood swings. If they show those symptoms, this section is for you. Here you can pick up practical tips on how to take better care of an incontinent loved one who is mentally impaired. But we also recommend seeing a medical professional as well.

Establishing a routine for you and them

It helps people with mental health challenges to feel much safer if they have an established routine. That applies especially when changing their incontinence products. You can help them to feel less anxious and more relaxed by doing it at the same times each day. And by saying and doing the same things when you change them. Then they’ll know what to expect at the time of the change. And they’ll understand where it fits in with their meals, naps and other activities, such as watching television. 
 
If you ever have to hand over your caregiving responsibilities to someone else, it will be good if they understand your routine. If your back-up caregiver continues to do what you do, at the same times, your loved one is more likely to feel at ease.  

Creating the right environment

This will vary according to your loved one’s condition and their situation. If they can get to the bathroom walking on their own, be sure the path there is clear. Try to create the safest possible environment. You can do this by adapting your surroundings, and buying and installing appropriate products and amenities. The aim is to make it possible for her or him to use their space comfortably and safely. Here’s what to do, as soon as possible:
 
  • Examine the floors in each room where your loved one is likely to go. Are they slippery? Do they pose any risks? If so . . . 
    - Install anti-slip tape under rugs, and get rid of uneven and ragged carpets. 
    - Add anti-slip mats wherever the floor is often wet, such as in the bathroom and kitchen.
  • Add supporting grab bars everywhere your loved one needs them – for example, by the toilet, in the shower or by the bath.
  • Help make the bathroom door clearly visible to them with a big sign. You might also want to replace the toilet ring with a brightly colored one so that it’s easier to see.
  • Install a lidded trash can for used incontinence products in the bathroom or bedroom. It makes for a more pleasant atmosphere, and keeps the rubbish out of the way.
  • Also, the person you care for may also prefer clothing that is easy for you or them to remove, such as wide skirts and drawstring trousers. Clothing that is easy to remove helps them feel more self-reliant and can make your assistance easier.
For other practical tips about keeping your loved one safe – including advice on lifting and moving them – see Home safety and Ergonomics.

The importance of hygiene

Personal hygiene is an important part of anyone’s daily routine. It’s not so easy and straightforward though when you’re caring for a person whose physical and mental health are in decline.
 
People suffering from dementia can be less cooperative, and more resistant to any change. So taking good care of your loved one’s hygiene might take a lot of patience. You’ll need to talk with them more, and spend more time washing them. Find out more about incontinence and dementia

Caring for elderly skin

As you may know, in later life our skin becomes more fragile and more easily damaged. For that reason, it needs special care, with a gentle hygiene routine that helps to prevent skin irritation and infection. That’s especially the case when your loved one is incontinent – urine and feces can harm their skin. Good hygiene for the elderly not only protects skin health; it also soothes your loved one, helping them feel clean, comfortable, refreshed and healthy. It boosts their confidence, too.
 
There are three steps to taking care of their skin: cleansing, restoring and protecting. For a range of products that cover those steps, and are specially designed for elderly skin, see the TENA skin care range

Incontinence products

It’s important to remember that people with dementia aren’t keen on change. So they might not understand why you’re doing something – for example, helping them with their incontinence. That’s why TENA incontinence pants are designed to look and feel like normal underwear. This helps your loved one feel comfortable about changing into them. Experienced caregivers, including those in nursing homes, tell us that persons with dementia in their care offer little resistance to wearing them. 
 
For a step-by-step guide to putting on and changing our incontinence products, visit our page on changing.

Helping them with diet and fluids

Some people with incontinence worry about drinking too much – that it will just increase the urge to go to the toilet. So they may want to drink less. That can be a problem – it can make their urine more concentrated and put their health at risk. So try to encourage your loved one to drink as normal, responding to their natural thirst. 
 
Mealtimes are important to them – not just for the nourishing food and drink, but also for the opportunity to spend time together with others. It’s good if you, and even friends and family members, eat with them. Your company and the opportunity to chat and laugh will help them feel good. Also, try to serve their meals at the same times each day. 

Feeling connected to others

If your loved one suffers from mental impairment, and limited mobility, they may not be able to enjoy their old hobbies like they once did. Whatever their condition, they probably still like you holding their hand, hugging them and talking gently to them. It will be good if you can find new new activities to do with them – things that will help keep them entertained and feel connected. 
 
Experienced caregivers say that doing even small activities together can help to brighten up your loved one’s day. See here ideas on activities to do with your loved one.

Don’t wait to ask for help

When the person you’re caring for has dementia and is incontinent as well, it’s extra challenging. Experienced caregivers recommend that you seek help and support from others – family members, friends or local community or government social services. Find out more here.

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