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Improving Bowel and Bladder Function in Late-Stage Alzheimer's Disease

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Updated May 23, 2008

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If you notice changes in your loved one's bowel and bladder function, be sure to have your doctor rule out any acute (brief yet severe) medical problems, such as fecal impaction or a urinary tract infection, before assuming that the problems are simply due to late-stage Alzheimer's. To improve bowel and bladder function, try the following strategies:

  • Eliminate caffeinated beverages. Liquids that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, and some carbonated drinks tend to increase episodes of incontinence by increasing the flow of urine.

  • Reduce liquid consumption in the evening. While it's important to keep your loved one hydrated, try to reduce liquid consumption during the two hours before bedtime in order to reduce incidents of incontinence during the night.

  • Use protective briefs and absorbent bed pads. Briefs and pads are effective tools for handling incontinence, even when other strategies work most of the time.

  • Watch for constipation. While your loved one doesn't have to have a bowel movement every day, he or she shouldn't go three or more days without having a bowel movement. Adding natural laxatives to the diet can help (e.g., high-fiber snacks like prunes).

  • Follow a toileting schedule. People with late-stage Alzheimer's should be taken to the bathroom or given a bed pan every couple of hours. Keep a written chart documenting when your relative successfully goes to the bathroom as well as when and how much he eats and drinks. Tailor the toileting schedule to your loved one's unique toileting routine.

Sources:

Alzheimer's Association (2005). Late-stage care: Providing care and comfort during the late stage of Alzheimer's disease. Chicago, IL: Author.

Mace, N. L., & Rabins, P. V. (2006). The 36-hour day: A family guide to caring for people with Alzheimer disease, other dementias, and memory loss in later life (4th ed.). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

National Institutes of Health (2008). End of life: Helping with comfort and care (NIH Publication No. 08-6036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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