When I was still in school, I found out that my grandmother was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. Never having heard of it before, I did my research on it and for years, saw my mom care for my grandmother. Throughout that whole time, I never knew about a “secret” she kept from me, and probably from many of us in the family. In the middle of a prayer session at her favourite temple, my grandmother lost control of her bladder and urinated right there, standing. “I can’t forgive myself for what I have done,” she told my mom in those exact words. As an effect of having Parkinson’s, she had started suffering from incontinence, or the loss of bladder or bowel control.
A very common condition, approximately 24 million Indians suffer from incontinence in India, as per this 2015 Times of India report. Yet, where are the conversations about this condition among friends, family and on social media? There is almost an eerie silence around it, because of the intense shame and stigma it brings along. But here’s the thing: the responsibility of breaking this silence is on us. It’s a difficult, uncomfortable conversation, but one that can’t be ignored.
At your house, here are 7 ways you can be more supportive of your grandparents or ageing relatives, and help them lead a happier life.
While you’re having a conversation with your grandparents, slip the question in, or ask openly, depending on how your relationship is. Find creative ways of doing it, but regardless of what their response is, make them believe that incontinence is nothing to be ashamed of. Share real-life stories such as this one with them, and continue the dialogue.
Most of our bathrooms have bath and sanitary products, but not adult diapers. Ensure you always keep a pack in the bathroom, and not question its usage. Over time, you’ll normalise the conversation, and make your grandparents know that you care.
Plan shorter travel times and longer stay times whenever you plan a trip. Book travel options (road, train, flight, etc.) keeping washroom availability in mind, and carry the adult diapers!
Don’t talk about incontinence with embarrassment or as a joke, even if you have a friendly relationship with your grandparents. Laughing about it doesn’t normalise it. It only reinforces the stigma.
When you’re dealing with incontinence, it’s important to assure yourself that you’re not alone. Watching videos or reading others’ stories online is a great way to feel the solidarity. Help your grandparents find the best resources in the language they’re most comfortable in.
Incontinence is controllable and treatable, and it’s important for your grandparents to know you’re with them on this journey. Accompany them to the doctor to offer support. Your perspective as a caregiver could be deeply beneficial medically too.
It’s important for you to not develop frustration or resistance in helping out. Find caregivers and ask them for help, or take support from groups and resources online. Remember that incontinence is something you could suffer from too, in which case, you’d need all the help you can get as well.
Feel free to Tweet to me @lipi_meh if there’s any point I missed out on! Together, let’s break the silence and help people we love lead lives without shame. It’s the least we can do.