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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published October 17 2010

Bursack: Protection briefs are step toward dignity

Dear Carol: My dad has dementia. He also had prostate surgery a number of years ago and should wear adult diapers but refuses, so he always smells. How can I convince him to wear diapers? – Disgusted

Dear Disgusted: You’ve got a tough but common problem. First of all, the obvious: Don’t call them protection “diapers,” even if it’s only in your head.

Your attitude could seem demeaning to your dad. Yes, I know it’s just a word, but adults are adults no matter what their losses, and they don’t need to be reminded that many of their functions mirror those of babies. We should help elders retain as much dignity as possible. The word “brief” is a good substitute.

Some of your dad’s denial may stem from family members, particularly his children, pushing protection on him. Many elders get defensive when their adult children suggest changes, whether it’s an exam for their memory problem, help with finance or incontinence protection.

The need for these aids is humiliating to some elders. A few would rather live in denial than deal with an imperfect solution.

As with any sensitive issue, a third party can often be an enormous help. If your dad has a good friend, preferably one with whom he’s shared great social time, that person may be able to suggest a product that could help. This works even better if the friend wears protection himself or has acquaintances who do.

If a friend doesn’t seem to be an option, your dad may respond to a medical professional. Try making an appointment with his urologist or the doctor who did his prostate surgery. You may want to write the doctor a letter ahead of time, pointing out the need for strong advice on wearing some type of pad.

If the doctor has any “bedside manner” at all, he may be able to approach the issue in a light-hearted manner, suggesting that he’s got many patients who need this protection and that he may need it himself one day.

While no one wants to make a joke about this tough issue, there are people who must cope with far worse. It could help your dad to understand that.

The idea is to take the stigma out of wearing incontinence protection by placing weight on the fact that there is more dignity in wearing the discrete protection available these days than smelling like urine.

The most effective way to get this concept across to your dad may be through someone from outside the family. Third-party help is often very effective. Good luck.

Carol Bradley Bursack can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.