A systematic literature review of incontinence care for persons with dementia: the research evidence


  • Doris Hägglund

    1. Author:Doris Hägglund, PhD, RNT, Senior Lecturer, School of Health and Medical Sciences, Family Medicine Research Centre, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden
    Search for more papers by this author

Doris Hägglund, School of Health and Medical Sciences, Family Research Centre, Örebro University, SE-70182 Örebro, Sweden. Telephone: 0046 1930 3665.


Background.  Urinary/faecal incontinence in persons with dementia is a potentially treatable condition. However, which type of incontinence care is most appropriate for persons with dementia remains undecided.

Aim.  The aim of this study was to perform a systematic review of literature on incontinence care in persons with dementia focusing on assessment/management and prevention.

Design.  A systematic search of the literature.

Method.  The search was performed in the CINAHL, PubMed and Cochrane Library databases.

Results.  Of the 48 papers analysed, two were systematic literature reviews of management of urinary incontinence including persons with dementia. These reviews showed that the best-documented effect of toilet assistance for urinary incontinence in elderly persons with/without dementia had prompted voiding. However, prompted voiding in persons with dementia raises ethical concerns related to the person’s integrity and autonomy. Timed voiding in combination with additional interventions like incontinence aids, staff training on the technique of transferring participants from bed to commode and pharmacological treatment decreased the number of urinary incontinence episodes in older persons with/without dementia. There is good scientific evidence that prevention of urinary incontinence in elders with/without dementia decreases incontinence or maintains continence. However, the evidence is insufficient to describe the state of knowledge of faecal incontinence.

Conclusions.  Toilet assistance, including timed voiding in combination with additional interventions and prompted voiding, are the available evidence-based interventions; however, nursing incontinence care is an experience-based endeavour for persons with dementia.

Relevance to clinical practice.  There is a lack of evidence-based nursing interventions related to incontinence care for persons with dementia. More research is needed to show whether experience-based incontinence care is effective and which activities are most appropriate for persons with dementia. However, the practice of effective nursing will only be realised by using several sources of evidence, namely research, clinical experience and patient experience.