A woman talking with a doctor

For people with dementia, their brains no longer send or receive the messages to recognise the feeling of having a full bowel or bladder.

The person with dementia might also not remember what they are supposed to do if they do recognise that feeling, or they may no longer be able to hold on until they reach a toilet.

Medical checks

Incontinence can also be caused by medical problems, so see a doctor to have a full medical assessment. The doctor can also refer you to a continence nurse who can give you specialist advice and support.

Caring for someone with continence issues

Accidents are bound to happen, so try not to worry too much. But problems around toileting can be humiliating, embarrassing and messy.

For the person who is caring for someone with dementia, managing issues with continence can sometimes feel like the last straw. It can get tiring and frustrating, and seem like a constant round of washing and drying clothes and bed linen.

There are many products available to manage continence and basically make everyone’s life easier. So ask for help and advice on what you can use to minimise your workload and help the person with dementia get on with their usual day.

Problems with continence are not easy for the person to accept, so remember to respect the privacy and dignity of the person with dementia and be sensitive to their feelings.

Reviewing the environment could be helpful to promote continence. Check that the toilet is easily identified, for some people a white seat on white toilet bowl in a white room is not helpful, consider using colour to make the toilet stand out. Also, check the door to the bathroom/toilet is easy to identify and that it stands out from other doors in the house.

Continence NZ also offer a free continence course which they developed alongside Alzheimers NZ and Dementia Auckland. Check it out on their website.


Not being able to pass a bowel movement (poo) can be another common problem for people with dementia. Some tips to avoid constipation include:

  • Ensuring a high-fibre diet (that includes plenty of vegetables, fruit and wholegrains) and drinking at least six to eight glasses of water a day
  • Encouraging physical activity every day
  • Keeping track of when the person goes to the toilet – people with dementia might forget they have gone.

Ongoing and unresolved constipation can lead to serious medical issues and can contribute to increased confusion. It is very important to discuss any concerns you might have with a health professional.

  • Booklet: Supporting a person with dementia Thumbnail Image

    Booklet: Supporting a person with dementia

    A guide for family/whānau and friends

    This booklet gives you information and tips on helping a person with dementia with their personal care, such as washing and dressing, nutrition, sleeping and travelling, as well as communication and ideas for meaningful activities and ways you can look after yourself – which is very important, too.