What You Absolutely Need to Know About Using Catheters

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Living at home can be difficult for the elderly and their caregivers, especially if the caregiver isn’t a medical professional. Urinary incontinence is something that many have to deal with, which can be a great source of embarrassment. The percentage of incontinence in those 65-69 years old is 14% but goes up to almost half (45%) by the time one is 85 years or older. In some cases, the doctor may prescribe you catheters to use at home and may even give you free catheter samples to try. (And some medical companies will issue free catheters for a trial period as well.) To avoid infections and promote hygiene, both the individual using the catheter and any caregivers should know the best practices for using them, disposing of urine, and how to properly clean them.

What Is a Catheter Used For?

You’ve likely seen a catheter in a hospital, though they’ve been around for over 3,500 years. Their primary function is to drain the bladder when it can’t empty itself naturally. The modern catheter consists of a tube that takes urine from the bladder and deposits it in a drainage bag. The removal of urine relieves pressure in the kidneys, minimizing risk of kidney failure, and overall permanent kidney damage.

Generally catheters are used if the person can’t control when he or she urinates, if he or she is incontinent, or are retaining urine. The reasons for these three things are variable, including surgeries, kidney stones, a mental condition, or a spinal cord injury, among other things.

If you’re using a catheter because of a surgery, the period of use is likely to be relatively short. However, the elderly or those with a more severe (or permanent) injury or illness will likely have to use catheters for a long time, and potentially for the rest of their lives.

What are Best Practices for Using Catheters?

If you’re using a catheter that’s meant to be reused, make sure it’s cleaned thoroughly with soap and water (and rinsed thoroughly as well) to minimize your risk of a UTI (urinary tract infection). A one-time use catheter will already be in sterilized packaging, so you will only have to make sure that you’re clean.

Make sure that (if possible) you’re hydrating enough — this will keep everything moving through your body and reduce your risk of infection as well.

Your leg bag (also known as your drainage bag) should be emptied when it reaches the half-full mark or before bed. Most need to be emptied at least twice a day. It should also be cleaned daily and replaced per your doctor’s instructions. Most need to be replaced either once a week or at least twice a month.

The leg bag should also always be kept at a lower height from your bladder so that urine doesn’t return to your bladder. And good hand washing practices are key — for both the person with the catheter and anyone assisting them.

Where Can I Find Free Catheters?

Your doctor may give you free catheters to test if it’s clear that you need them. There are a few different types of catheters, such as intermittent catheters, so they may want to see which one is best for you and have you report back at your next visit. And, if you’re only on them for a short time, it might make sense for them to simply provide you with them as part of your cost of care.

Medical companies might also provide free catheters as well. If catheters are going to be part of the new normal, purchasing them directly from the source might be a more cost effective way of doing things, and trying their samples is a good way to gauge if they’re the right brand for what’s needed.

Catheters can be a wonderful tool when used and cared for properly, giving some more dignity to those who might not have total control over their bladder for whatever the reason.

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