Navigating through incontinence: A qualitative systematic review and meta-aggregation of the experiences of family caregivers

Kristine M.C. Talley, Nicole J. Davis, Cynthia Peden-McAlpine, Christie L. Martin, Elizabeth V. Weinfurter, Jean F. Wyman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

10 Scopus citations


Background: Community dwelling older adults who are care dependent are highly affected by incontinence, resulting in substantial informal caregiver burden. Understanding the experiences of these caregivers is needed to develop supportive programs that reduce caregiver burden and rates of institutionalization for care recipients. Objectives: This systematic review aimed to critically appraise and synthesize the qualitative literature on the perceptions, experiences, and consequences of informal caregivers managing incontinence in community dwelling older adults. Design: A qualitative evidence synthesis using meta-aggregation. Data sources: CINAHL, Embase, Ovid Medline, PsycInfo, Scopus, and ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. Review methods: A comprehensive search was conducted to identify qualitative studies of all designs, published in English from January 1970 to November 2020, reporting on the experiences of unpaid adult family members or friends providing care at home to an adult aged 60 or older with urinary and/or fecal incontinence. Screening, data extraction, and quality appraisal were conducted independently by two reviewers, with disagreements resolved by consensus with all team members. Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) processes were used to assess study quality, and the dependability and credibility of both study findings and synthesized findings. All articles included met predetermined criteria. Results: Database searches yielded 1165 references, of which 117 full-text documents were screened. Seven articles of moderate to high methodological quality met eligibility criteria and were included. Studies occurred in nine countries with 134 participants who were mostly female spouses of the care recipient. From these eligible studies, 49 findings were extracted with 35 equivocal or credible findings eligible for meta-aggregation. Findings were synthesized into the following four categories: 1) emotional responses, 2) physical, financial, and social consequences, 3) family roles and caregiver support, and 4) management and coping strategies. Conclusions: Informal caregivers experience many physical, psychosocial, and financial challenges in caring for an older family member with incontinence. Educational and supportive programs for managing incontinence should be multi-component and tailored to meet the individual needs of informal caregivers. Future research should incorporate strategies to cope with emotional responses and offer practical strategies for managing incontinence. PROSPERO registration: CRD42017069185

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104062
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
Early online dateAug 13 2021
StatePublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to thank Christopher Colthorpe for his expertise and assistance during the early stage of the project. No external funding.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd


  • Family caregiving
  • Incontinence
  • Meta-aggregation
  • Older adults
  • Qualitative studies
  • Systematic review

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Review
  • Systematic Review


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