Discussing continence problems

Incontinence can be a sensitive subject for many people. Often it is associated with shame and guilt. But the more that is understood about the condition – for instance knowing that incontinence is a common problem that is not restricted to older people – the more confident you will feel discussing the issue and supporting the individual.

Breaking down barriers

To support people with incontinence effectively, you need to improve your knowledge. With the right information and advice, you can provide people with support and guidance tailored to their needs.

Beginning the conversation

When raising the topic of incontinence with a patient for the first time, you should aim to achieve three things:

  1. identify whether there is a continence issue
  2. does the individual or their carers perceive it to be a problem?
  3. encourage the individual to discuss their anxieties and what support they need.

The following tips might help:

Are you the right person to talk to?

Consider whether the person needs to be referred to someone with more specialist knowledge.

How will they respond?

It may be uncomfortable for the person to discuss their incontinence with you, so their response may be one of embarrassment and frustration, even anger. If you can anticipate what their reaction will be, then it can help you to work more effectively with them.

When is the right time?

Knowing when to raise the subject is important; it is best done when the individual is calm and can focus on what is being said. Be aware of cues that might indicate that the person wants to discuss something with you. This might be something like "I'm slightly worried about going out and don't take my water pills."

What tone should I use?

You should use an empathic, matter-of-fact tone of voice. If you feel uncomfortable, don't let this show as it can make the person uncomfortable too.


  1. Scott PS: Caring.com. Difficult conversations: How to talk to someone about Incontinence; 2016 Jan 5 [cited 2016 Jul 8]. Available from: www.caring.com/articles/how-to-talk-about-incontinence.

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