Dementia results from damage to the brain and often causes people to feel lost, anxious and confused. People with dementia typically have memory problems and increasing difficulties with everyday activities like communicating, bathing, cooking and using the toilet.

In a person with dementia, incontinence may become more of a problem as the person:

  • forgets where to find the toilet
  • forgets how to unfasten their clothes
  • forgets what to do when they get to the toilet
  • becomes more prone to bowel changes (diarrhoea or constipation) in response to medication side effects.


Dementia and toilet behaviour

In this series of six short videos, Nurse Continence Specialist Anita Francis discusses some considerations and practical tips when caring for someone with dementia.


A person with dementia and incontinence can be complex and challenging

While dementia may rule out some treatments, a continence assessment will help determine the cause of the incontinence. A continence assessment can provide the foundation for planning appropriate management of co-existing health problems and behaviour factors.

A bladder and bowel control check-up will include a physical check and questions about when, where and why problems happen. Carers are often the best people to provide the information needed to assess bladder and bowel control, such as:

  • the time the person goes to the toilet and/or leaks
  • how wet the person becomes
  • when and how often they open their bowels (poo).
  • Treat the cause of the problem. A doctor, nurse continence specialist or men’s, women’s and pelvic health physiotherapist can help find the cause(s) and suggest treatment.
  • Review medicines. Medicines may help, but they can also make people more confused and make bladder and bowel control problems worse.
  • Encourage fluids. Make sure the person with dementia drinks fluid as recommended by a doctor. Reduce drinks with caffeine (e.g. coffee, tea and cola) that can upset the bladder.
  • Watch for signs they want to go to the toilet. Ask them to use the toilet at the times you think they most often go or are most often wet. If you note the time this happens you will be able to see if it gets better. 
  • Adapt clothing. If they have trouble with zips and buttons, change to tracksuits, trousers with elastic waists or use Velcro.
  • Keep the way to the toilet clear. Make the toilet door easy to see with good lighting and don’t leave things in the way that might make it hard to get to the toilet.
  • Get help. Think about using community resources to help with the load of caring for a person with dementia (such as laundry, shopping and respite care).

Continence products such as pads and pants may improve quality of life for people with incontinence. Financial assistance is also available to eligible people to help with the cost of these products. 


Contact the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66 for confidential advice and support. The National Continence Helpline is staffed by Nurse Continence Specialists who offer free and confidential information, advice and support. They also provide a wide range of continence-related resources and referrals to local services.

You can also contact the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.


Last Updated: Wed 08, May 2024
Last Reviewed: Fri 20, Mar 2020