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Incontinence: Practical Tips for the Occupational Therapy Practitioner

Krista Covell-Pierson, OTR/L, BCB-PMD

February 1, 2019



Why should OT address incontinence?


Incontinence negatively impacts occupations. When urinary and bowel leakage are in the mix, it can definitely reduce people's goal achievement, and their quality of life. 45% of clients receiving home health care reported having difficulty with bladder and bowel control. We are seeing this a lot in home care, skilled nursing facilities, and hospitals. OT evaluations address multiple areas of occupational performance directly related to incontinence including:

  • Context
  • Cognition
  • Safety
  • Transfers
  • Musculoskeletal deficits
  • BADL and IADL routines
  • Activity tolerance
  • Mood
  • Positioning
  • Pain
  • Fine motor control
  • Hygiene
  • Balance
  • Equipment needs

We want to address whether they can safely get to and from their toilet. We want to also look at cognition to see if they can sequence through a toileting routine safely and well. We look at transfers, ADL routines, activity tolerance, mood, positioning, and pain. These are all the things that we should be addressing in a standard OT evaluation. With pain, you can take it one step further and ask if they ever have pain during a bowel movement or when they cannot go to the bathroom. Do they have pain with urination? If somebody has Parkinson's or an issue with their hands, can they get their buttons and zippers undone, pull their pants up and down, and can they open the package that the incontinence products come in? We also want to look at hygiene. How are they bathing and are they doing a good job in the shower? Can they get cleaned up well when they are on the toilet? If you add incontinence on top of that, things can become even more challenging.

Furthermore, occupational therapy practitioners have different roles in different settings. The type of setting you are in may dictate that you address incontinence issues slightly differently.


It depends on what type of hospital setting, but you may not feel like you have the time to address incontinence in this setting. However, if you are in a rehab type hospital setting, you might be able to talk about incontinence. It might be as easy as grabbing your client's hand and letting them know, that with the onset of an illness or with surgery, that they can have an increase in bowel and bladder dysfunction. You can go over this with them, and it may reduce their anxiety. You can begin to educate them on their options as they go through rehab, even if you are only going to be seeing them for a short period of time. We may be the only one disseminating this type of information. Occupational therapists are already addressing ADL's so it is a natural transition into addressing bowel and bladder health in a practical, non-threatening way.

Skilled Nursing Facility

There are lots of opportunities for OTs to address incontinence in a skilled nursing facility. We spend a lot of time talking with clients and building relationships. We end up getting a lot of personal information from them that they may not be sharing with other medical professionals or their families. We can integrate incontinence issues into our goals. We can take some leadership opportunities here to start talking about incontinence with nursing, dietary, and the activities department. Of course, there has to be a team approach where people are open-minded to discuss incontinence with you. I have had several presentations with these disciplines that have been very helpful and has enhanced the programming at different skilled nursing facilities. 

Home Care

I work primarily in a mobile outpatient, but I do also work in home care as we contract with different home care agencies to supplement their staffing. Home care agencies will bring me in sometimes to talk about incontinence with clients. They want their clients to have an increased quality of life and have increased independence when they have completed home care. If they do not address the incontinence issues, they may not get better. When you are working with people in their homes, it is so much easier to establish trust. It gives us a unique stance. For example, when we are observing their environment, we may notice pads on the back of the toilet or soiled clothes in the corner of their bedroom. It gives us an opportunity to see what is really going on behind the scenes.


In outpatient, it can be a little bit different. Typically, you address more specific things, and the client may be more advanced in their training. However, this does not mean that you cannot start integrating an incontinence program in an outpatient setting as this is where those, with incontinence that is more advanced, are referred. Pelvic pain and prolapse are treated by a specialist, but an OT would look at things more holistically by tying clients' abilities to engage in their ADLs. We can really enhance our treatment plans around incontinence using that framework.

krista covell pierson

Krista Covell-Pierson, OTR/L, BCB-PMD

Occupational therapist and entrepreneur, Krista Covell-Pierson is the founder and owner of Covell Care and Rehabilitation, LLC. Krista created Covell Care and Rehabilitation to improve the quality of services available for clients of all ages living in the community through a one-of-a-kind mobile outpatient practice which aims to improve the lives of clients and clinicians alike. Krista attended Colorado State University receiving degrees in social work and occupational therapy. She has worked in various settings including hospitals, home health, rehabilitation centers and skilled nursing. Through her private practice, Krista created a model that she teaches to other therapists looking to start their own business. She has extensive experience as a fieldwork educator and received the Fieldwork Educator of the Year Award from Colorado State University. Krista served as the President of the Occupational Therapy Association of Colorado's President for two years. She presents to groups of professionals and community members on a regular basis and has a heart to help others become the best version of themselves. 

Related Courses

Incontinence: Practical Tips for the Occupational Therapy Practitioner (Part 1)
Presented by Krista Covell-Pierson, OTR/L, BCB-PMD


Krista Covell-Pierson, OTR/L, BCB-PMD
Course: #3609Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'very thorough and straight forward material'   Read Reviews
This course teaches practical treatment interventions for the generalist practitioner. Strategies can be used in a variety of settings, including home health, skilled nursing facility, hospitals, and outpatient.

Incontinence: Practical Tips for the Occupational Therapy Practitioner (Part 2)
Presented by Krista Covell-Pierson, OTR/L, BCB-PMD


Krista Covell-Pierson, OTR/L, BCB-PMD
Course: #3610Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'Easy to understand, Easy to apply to my current practice'   Read Reviews
This course is Part 2 of this series. Practitioners working in all settings will learn practical treatment interventions to address urinary and bowel incontinence.

OT & COVID: How to Navigate a New World with Older Adults
Presented by Krista Covell-Pierson, OTR/L, BCB-PMD


Krista Covell-Pierson, OTR/L, BCB-PMD
Course: #4746Level: Introductory2 Hours
  'The presentation was highly organized and informative'   Read Reviews
Occupational Therapy Practitioners serve an important role for older adults amidst COVID19 as we address ADL, safety, quality of life, mental health, and other areas directly impacted by this new virus. Our contribution to the at-risk population of older adults is important and invaluable.

OT Professionals and Home Health 101
Presented by Krista Covell-Pierson, OTR/L, BCB-PMD


Krista Covell-Pierson, OTR/L, BCB-PMD
Course: #3994Level: Introductory1 Hour
  'Very comprehensive overview of home health OT'   Read Reviews
This course will help OTR’s and COTA’s increase knowledge and confidence when working in the dynamic, and often chaotic, world of home health. OT professionals will learn the fundamentals and helpful, practical tips to enhance their home health experience with adult and older adult clients.

Entrepreneurship for the OT Professional
Presented by Krista Covell-Pierson, OTR/L, BCB-PMD


Krista Covell-Pierson, OTR/L, BCB-PMD
Course: #3849Level: Intermediate2 Hours
  'Knowledge of presenter'   Read Reviews
Do you dream of starting your own business but don't know where to start? This course will give you practical tips and help OT professionals get started on making their career dreams come true.