Navigating the Conversation - Tips for Discussing Incontinence with Patients

Nurse having a conversation with a patientNurse having a conversation with a patientNurse having a conversation with a patient


As a healthcare professional, you may be used to having difficult conversations with patients or explaining complicated results to the parent of a young child. However, some topics can be more challenging to talk about than others. Incontinence is something many patients can feel embarrassed about and they may not know how to explain their symptoms to you because of this. This can result in patients not getting the support and advice they need to improve their quality of life.

However, there are ways you can navigate conversations about incontinence and transform them into positive, constructive experiences for your patients.

In this post, we will provide you with some effective tips for discussing incontinence with your patients to ensure they receive the support they need without feeling embarrassed or ashamed.

The importance of effective communication

When it comes to sensitive subjects like incontinence, effective communication between healthcare professionals and patients is key. While patients may seek advice for their condition, actually talking about it with you can be daunting – especially if it’s for the first time.

As such, make sure you let your patient know that incontinence is a common problem and that there are numerous incontinence products and treatments available to provide relief.

By effectively communicating your knowledge of the condition and providing your patient with personalised advice, you can make sure they leave the conversation feeling empowered.

Group of healthcare professionalsGroup of healthcare professionalsGroup of healthcare professionals

Challenges healthcare professionals can face

There may be times when you face challenges when trying to discuss incontinence with patients. For example, some of these challenges may include:

●  The patient may not want to talk about it as it may be a ‘taboo’ subject for them

●  They might not want to admit they are experiencing incontinence

●  Feeling overwhelmed by what you’re saying

●  English might not be their first language or they communicate through sign language

●  They may have limited vocabulary or might be unable to read

●  Patients can have speech difficulties which can make it difficult to communicate

●  Feeling uncomfortable talking about it with others outside their support system

Knowing when to raise the subject of incontinence is important. It’s best to bring it up when your patient is calm and can focus on your words. Try to be aware of any cues that might suggest your patient wants to discuss something with you too.

As a healthcare professional, it’s crucial you understand when a patient needs to be referred to a specialist. While you can provide support and advice, sometimes their incontinence needs are best met by an incontinence specialist.

Overcoming these challenges is possible and doing so can make a big difference in your patient’s overall quality of life.

Top tips for discussing incontinence with patience

While there are some challenges to overcome, navigating conversations about incontinence can have a huge knock-on effect on how well a patient manages their condition. You should use an empathic, matter-of-fact tone of voice. If you feel uncomfortable, don't let this show as it can make your patient uncomfortable too. 

Identify and assess how they communicate and look out for non-verbal cues. Simple techniques such as using low-tech aids, signs, picture symbols and communication books can be useful if they are struggling.

Here are some of our top tips to help you have these difficult conversations while instilling confidence in both yourself and your patient.

Establish trust and comfort

One of the most important things you can do is to establish a sense of trust and comfort with your patient. By helping them feel at ease, they may become more open to having difficult conversations or sharing any symptoms they’re particularly embarrassed about.

Some patients also benefit from having the reassurance that what they say is confidential and will not be shared without consent. This helps develop trust and can make them more willing to share personal information with you.

Use empathetic language

Using the right language can make conversations around incontinence easier for you and your patient. Reassure them by letting them know how common incontinence is and that it’s not impossible to manage effectively.

Each patient is different; some may be happy to talk about their bathroom habits, while others might not be. Therefore, it can be a useful exercise to put yourself in the shoes of a patient struggling with incontinence and think about what you would like your healthcare professional to say to you. This may help you generate some open questions and supportive phrases to help them feel more comfortable.

Incontinence is a difficult condition to manage on its own and it can cause lots of negative feelings for the patient. So try to be understanding if they are closed off or shut down when you talk to them about it.

By demonstrating empathy in how you talk to them, your patient may come around and feel more comfortable about opening up.

Educating patients

Many patients will have a strict idea of what incontinence looks like, believing many of the stereotypes and stigmas associated with it. However, by explaining the causes, symptoms and common misconceptions, you can provide your patients with the education they need to fully understand the condition.

Resources can be a huge help for patients as well, especially if they feel overwhelmed or confused. Some patients need time to adjust on their own or with their loved ones, so providing them with supportive resources can make all the difference.


Have an open dialogue

It’s important that during these conversations with your patients, you make them feel at ease and as though they are free to talk about their experiences. Asking them open questions rather than ones with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers can feel less direct.

For example, asking ‘Are you experiencing any problems with going to the toilet?’ creates an opportunity for the patient to explain their symptoms without feeling as though they are being diagnosed with something straight away or put on the spot.

It can take some patients a lot of courage to talk openly about their symptoms, so try to keep the dialogue open and let the conversation flow naturally without any direct questions (except when necessary).

Health professional caring for a patientHealth professional caring for a patientHealth professional caring for a patient

Collaborate on decision-making

One final tip when discussing incontinence with patients is to involve them in the decision-making about their condition.

After all, there are so many different treatments and products out there, and each patient will have unique needs and preferences. So if you simply tell a patient what they must and must not do, they can feel restricted or as though they have no say in the decision.

Ask them what their preferences would be and keep them involved every step of the way. And if they have a carer with them, keep them as actively involved as possible.

By making collaborative decisions with your patient about their management plan, you can help empower them to take control of their incontinence. Remember, care should be person-centred and not just focused on tasks and processes. An important element of care is to be aware of and sensitive to the features of a person’s life, including their values, feelings and beliefs and promote dignity.  

Incontinence products with Attends

Although incontinence is a complicated condition, conversations about it with patients don’t have to be. By providing them with knowledge and resources, promoting open, empathetic dialogue and establishing trust, you too can easily navigate conversations with patients about incontinence.

When it comes to providing patients with information on incontinence products, you can also rely on Attends to be the brand that meets their needs. We offer a huge range of products that can help your patients manage their incontinence on a daily basis.

Discover more about the Attends incontinence products range.

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