Giving back my mother her freedom

Every time I see people my age and other friends make plans in a carefree manner, I have a few moments of self-pity, even despair. I can’t take holidays, go out on an impromptu drive with my husband or take the kids on a picnic, unless I plan months in advance. You see, my 62 year-old mother lives with me. And being a caregiver for an ageing person is a whole different thing than taking care of small kids. Now you might say that many of you look after your mothers too, and that it’s not that much of a big deal. Well, lucky you. For me, it’s rather a big deal because I deal with an ageing woman who is losing control of her faculties to the onset of dementia and has been living with mild to middling incontinence for several years. Since the death of my father a few years ago, my mother’s ageing has sped up; causing her dementia to worsen and her inability to hold her urge to urinate worse. Incontinence, or the lack of control over your bladder is an issue faced by millions of women, especially those who have given birth vaginally, around India, and is not restricted to ageing women alone.

When it is babies you’re taking care of, it’s easier in the sense that their only form of protest is trying to get away from you or a bit of whining and crying that you are able to ignore and get that face washed or the nappy changed. However, with adults, there’s a lifetime of emotional connection and baggage attached to taking care of them; adding to that their own preferences of how things should be done and you’re in for a difficult time. I am sure many of you have ageing parents who might face similar issues; a few of you might have parents or grandparents who are bedridden, and for whom incontinence is a huge issue. And I feel you. I feel how hard it is for them and how hard it is for you. A caregiver’s job is never an easy one. As far as I have seen, there are four or five things that really affect the quality of life when dealing with incontinence. I’ll list them down, so those of us who don’t know can understand.

1. The constant smell of urine: It takes just a drop of pee to stink up the air around you. You end up using layers of cloth to pad yourself and protect your undergarments, you use several panties a day and if you’re comfortable, even add to the panty-liner expense in your household. Not only is this cumbersome to live with it is also expensive and inconvenient. The laundry in your household nearly doubles: this means more electricity, more detergent, and definitely more human hours going into the labour of drying all of this, if you don’t want to be smelling of pee through the day. Add to this bed clothes and it’s a lot of washing and maintaining to be done. Especially among women who wear saris.

2. The lack of freedom: The fear of losing control of your bladder is very real. There’s nothing, absolutely nothing you can do to control it when you’re full and this makes going out in public a nightmare. Some women experience incontinence in bits and spurts where only one or two drops of it leak uncontrollably, yet others experience it in a fuller manner, where they just can’t hold on to the entire volume of urine, and it is let out little by little. Staying over, going on holiday, staying out in a place where toilets are not accessible becomes a nightmare for these men and women.

3. The humiliation of it all: Apart from the physical inconvenience of incontinence, there is the emotional element. The embarrassment of everyone in your household knowing you have a problem keeping it in, so to speak. From the youngest child to the older adults of either gender. The humiliation women (and men) with incontinence is abject, and often leads to anger and frustration at their situation in life. This further leads to a certain asocial behaviour with them repeatedly refusing to go out and meet people, which eventually leads to a low or depressed state of mind.

4. The inability to exercise: Many women, ageing and post-baby, complain that their incontinence doesn’t allow them free physical movement. This hampers their ability to keep themselves fit, which has now become an essential part of most women’s lives in order to keep lifestyle illnesses and weight gain at bay.

5. And finally, water intake: A direct result of not being able to control your bladder is reducing the amount of water people drink. This is horribly dangerous because dehydration is a direct cause of reduction of water intake. Many people who are incontinent tend to cut down on their water intake through the day so that their bladders aren’t full. But what happens with this is that the body will secrete tiny amounts of urine anyway and this smells a lot stronger, because there’s no water to, well, water it down. Add to that a chance of dehydration and we are headed for disaster.

With these five problems, a caregiver of someone who is incontinent  needs to be constantly aware and checking on the person, especially if they are older, ageing and/or bedridden. And I’ll tell you what, it is exhausting. Both for me, as a caregiver, and for my mother who is incontinent. Or at least, it was till on a trip abroad, my mother stayed with a friend who suggested she use adult diapers. My mother’s immediate reaction was flat refusal. A diaper? That is for kids, I am a grown up, she said to her friend. But her friend, who herself suffers from incontinence, talked to her a long while, over several days, about it and urged her to try it. A road trip from my mother’s friend’s city to the countryside convinced my mother to give it a shot. This was three years ago and my mother has not looked back since. When she came back, she brought a stock of adult diapers for herself. On her return, it was worth seeing my mother emerge from the safe, lonely place she had shut herself off in. I can’t tell you the delight of watching a 60-something-year-old woman find her zeal for life again, of watching her go trekking along with a group of other women, of her being involved in the household again and feeling like she is useful and not a burden. I am deeply thankful to her friend for convincing her to try it out.

We were apprehensive of what will we do once her stock gets exhausted, local enquiries informed us that the cost of imported brands were exorbitant, that’s when we discovered Friends, which I was pleasantly surprised to find out has been around for over 17 years, they fit her perfectly and was very safe and easy to use. It’s been a true blessing and I can’t recommend it enough to those of you who are considering the use of it.

This article is written in association with Friends Adult Diapers

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