Getting mum or dad to try adult diapers without starting World War III

by | June 24, 2014

Seven practical tips to approaching your parents in a dignified way.


It’s not easy when roles are reversed. That’s true for you as a caregiver, as well as your dad or mum as they age. It’s also probably decades since any of you gave a second thought to incontinence.

What makes it all the more challenging is that way back then, the person agonising over nappy rash was your mum or dad over your cute little tush. But they had it easy, in a sense. Getting you into a nappy or diaper was a given. They never had to convince you to put one on – it was just the right thing to do.

Sure, it took effort to finally toilet train you and wean you off the nappy or diaper, but that’s where the ‘battle’ ended. Getting you off the diaper was likened to accomplishing a life goal. In fact, it was celebrated – seen as a milestone towards growing up.


Denial, dread, doom?

Dealing with your parents’ need for diapers, on the other hand, may feel counter-intuitive at times. All these years, you’ve experienced them as independent adults, in control, leading the family. Then, the reality sets in that they may not be able to manage even their bodily functions as well as before.

Some may experience incontinence, needing adult diapers all the time. For others, it’s just slowness getting to the toilet. There’s the urge to urinate, and awareness of the need to go to the toilet, but the speed is impaired.

With that comes an inevitable sense of loss – for you and your parent. There may also be fear or frustration. Some respond in denial, others in dread that it spells the beginning of the end, “Am I growing old and useless?” they ask. 

Others may try to hide the problem by staying at home. Unfortunately, they lose the freedom to go about daily activities as before. Sometimes, this leaves the whole family puzzled about this change in behaviour.

All these are rather natural responses. It is important to recognise and address how everyone is feeling. Sometimes, all it takes is asking with empathy, “This is tough for you, isn’t it?”

Followed by a statement in the vein of: “It’s tough for me too. But there’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all change as we age, and we are here to help and care for you”.


Practical tips

There are ways to talk to your mum or dad about adult diapers and confident continence care, while maintaining their dignity. Here are seven practical tips:  

1. Get educated first: Before you speak to your mum or dad, understand the many possible reasons for incontinence. Sometimes incontinence is temporary or can be improved. Bring your parent to a doctor for some professional advice.

There’s no need to struggle with wet pants, stained furniture or embarrassing smells. It’s also unnecessary to be cooped up at home due to fear. Show your parent that he or she can go out of the house with confidence and continue to lead an active ageing lifestyle.

2. Focus on independence: There’s a tendency to talk about all the things you cannot do when dealing with incontinence. In contrast, it may be more effective to talk about all the things you can do, if you manage incontinence effectively. That includes getting the right medical help and practising good habits.

Let them know there’s now a comprehensive range of continence care products, beginning with gathered inserts for people with light incontinence (minor leaks when coughing) to ultra absorbent adult diapers for those who need it to last through the night.

3. Start with pull-ups: Many elderly feel adverse to wearing adult diapers because of its association with babies. Rather, they take well to using pull-up pants as it resembles their own underwear. Pull-ups are also easier to put on and take off than adult diapers with re-sealable tapes, allowing for greater control and autonomy for the user. This is a small but very important element for elderly who may be already experiencing other losses.

Just be aware that pull-up pants are suitable for ambulant elderly (able to stand and walk), while adult diapers (wrapped with re-sealable tapes) are for those who are wheelchair-bound, or mostly cared for in bed.

4. Reward with incentives: After putting on the pull-ups or adult diapers, take your mum or dad on an outing. Or, bring him or her out for a restaurant meal. This encourages him or her and helps build confidence. Nothing makes mum or dad happier than to be seen with his or her children. There is a sense of pride for mum or dad that his or her children care for them.

5. Appeal to community-living: There are two aspects in this matter. First, it is crucial that elderly stay active and engaged with their peers and family. Unfortunately, some become so embarrassed or overwhelmed with their problems with incontinence that they stay at home and become socially-isolated. Emphasise the need for your parent to stay in touch with what’s important to keep physically and mentally healthy.

Second, with most families living in HDB flats in Singapore, it is more bearable when the home smells clean and fresh. When someone at home experiences incontinence, other family members’ daily lives are affected too. For example, it takes time and effort to constantly clean up the place or wash soiled clothes. To minimise such tension, many elderly cooperate and use continence care products when it’s needed.

6. Let them choose: Even after showing them the options, mum or dad may not try on the pull-ups or adult diapers immediately. Simply have them easily available around the house so that your parent can give them a try when ready. You may be surprised to find that he or she uses it when going out for a medical appointment, embarking on a long road trip or taking a plane.

7. Get outside help: Don’t take it personally, but your parent may be more receptive at times if he or she hears it from a doctor, nurse, professional caregiver or even the neighbour who casually talks about the diapers he or she is using. So, get someone to speak to your parent about how to better cope with his or her continence.


Identify your allies, and don’t get into WWW III about adult diapers with your parent.


(** The above article was written by BW Generation and Comfort Keepers at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.)



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