Disposable absorbent underwear products, sometimes called “adult diapers” or briefs, help those living with urinary incontinence and/or bowel incontinence keep their symptoms from interfering with daily life. There are many kinds of incontinence supplies to choose from, but finding the right one can be tricky.

Receiving an Incontinence Diagnosis

If a senior is experiencing a loss of bladder or bowel control, it is very important to consult a medical professional who can properly diagnose the type of incontinence, rule out any serious underlying causes and recommend treatment options. Even if behavioral changes, medications, surgery or other interventions are appropriate, a senior will may still need to use incontinence supplies to manage leaks and continue participating in their normal routines.

Finding the Right Diaper for Adults with Incontinence

There are many factors to consider when choosing an absorbent product, including:

  • Leakage type (e.g., urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, or both)
  • Leakage amount and corresponding absorbency and coverage levels
  • Flexibility to accommodate one’s varying activity levels
  • Unisex or gender-specific products
  • Size
  • Style (e.g., tab-style or pull-on)
  • Disposable or reusable
  • One’s mobility, dexterity and functional independence regarding activities of daily living like dressing/undressing, toileting and continence care
  • Cost
  • Personal preferences and comfort
  • Appearance under clothing

Some trial and error is usually necessary to determine how well a specific product works and how comfortable it is to wear. You may find that one product is best for containing leaks overnight, another has a slimmer profile under clothing for outings during the day, and a third more flexible option is ideal for activities like walking and light exercise.

Incontinence supplies can be expensive, especially at the beginning when you’re buying multiple brands and styles to find the best possible solution. Try not to look at the price tags first and choose contenders based on the factors above instead. You may find that a pricier product is more durable and provides better protection, therefore requiring fewer changes and costing less in the long run. (Better absorption and protection can also prevent you from constantly having to launder soiled clothes and linens and clean furniture and floors.) Keep in mind that many incontinence product manufacturers offer free or low-cost samples and coupons that can help you through the discovery phase and defray costs once you settle on something you like.

Caregiver Tips for Choosing Adult Incontinence Briefs

Since there are so many factors that play into finding the “best” incontinence underwear, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, family caregivers can learn a great deal from one another by sharing real experiences and insights that help shorten the trial-and-error process. The following tips are real pieces of advice that have been shared on the Caregiver Forum.

“I searched the Internet and got sample packs from various brands. Some were free samples, some I had to pay a nominal fee for, but getting the samples allowed me to visually see how they fit [without having to buy a whole package]. We ended up with Tranquility Premium OverNight Disposable Absorbent Underwear (pull-on style) for Dad. Tranquility also offers inserts that give an extra layer of protection used in conjunction with the regular disposable underwear. No underwear is going to be 100% leak-proof, but it is rare that Dad leaks with the Tranquility Premium OverNights. It’s worth the extra money.” –4him4Him

“[Adult incontinence briefs] shouldn’t leak, but they do. A key issue is if the diaper/pull-up/brief has been peed in prior—even a little. The gel-like substance that is supposed to absorb won’t a second time. Nighttime is problematic and the laying down position doesn’t help matters. Gravity just doesn’t work that way. My conclusions? Some brands work better than others but they ALL leak. Although some swear by doubling diapers, it’s a waste. Pad inserts help best, especially for men when you can adjust and aim when putting on. (Sorry, you know what I mean).” –Rainmom

“My mom is tiny, so even the small size of Depend briefs don’t fit tightly enough around the leg holes and sometimes she leaks. At night, we put two Poise pads in her Depend, so that if she wets the top layer, we only have to remove that pad rather than change the whole set. During the day, she wears one Poise pad in a cotton brief, which is snug enough that she doesn’t leak.” –CatyRay

“My Dad wears the Depend ‘Real Fit’ incontinence underwear for men, which he likes much better than the regular Depend. For women, I think they are called Depend ‘Silhouette.’ ” –freqflyer

“I was given some diapers for my husband that were actually for women, but I used them and I found that they seemed to be a bit better than the men’s! It seemed they come up higher on his back.” –Cathy2014

“NorthShore Care Supply’s AirSupreme Tab-Style briefs are super absorbent and, if they fit properly, don’t leak. It is all about the fit in the waist and the legs. Both should be snug, but not so tight as to make indentations on the skin. If your loved one has an unusual body type, like thinner legs and thicker waist, or vice versa, many incontinence supplies providers have a quiz or product finder tool on their websites to help consumers find the right product and fit.” –Chateau

“Don’t get the pull-on type diapers for a bedridden patient. Get the ones with tape [or velcro] tabs on the sides.” –SueC1957

“There are so many sizes and absorbencies available as well as many different brands that you should be able to find something your loved one likes. Take some time to check out the websites of brands like Depend, Always, Tena and whatever other products are easily available. They are full of information about their products and some even provide free/cheap samples and customer service help. If your loved one really can’t/won’t change frequently, then you will probably need to order one of the premium products. If you are going to add a pad to a brief for extra absorbency, you need to look for BOOSTER pads that don’t have the leak-proof backing. Unless you slash the outer layer on a traditional pad, nothing can pass though the soaked product other than what overflows around the edges. Lastly, most of us resist the pull ups because they cost a lot more, but I think they are the only way to contain bowel incontinence.” –cwillie

“My mom (who is in bed or in her wheelchair at all times) uses a Walmart brand called Assurance Unisex Stretch Brief with tabs and adds a Certainty Women’s Bladder Control Pad in Ultimate Absorbency from Walgreens. I do not use these for their lower cost as it’s what we grabbed day one when we knew nothing, and they have worked very well since. I know how important skin integrity and UTI prevention are, so I would not have kept using these brands if they didn’t work well.” –Momheal1

Browse Our Free Senior Care Guides

Prioritize Skin Integrity

Skin care is an important part of incontinence care that cannot be overlooked. In addition to prompt changing of soiled briefs and liners, private areas must be gently yet thoroughly cleansed and dried. Repeated exposure to urine and fecal matter can be very damaging to sensitive skin. Improper care may lead to rashes, sores and even serious infections. Look for incontinence products that effectively trap and wick moisture away from the skin and feature soft, breathable lining. Application of a skin barrier ointment can further protect the area from moisture and prevent irritation.

Read: Bathing & Hygiene Tips: Caring for a Senior’s Aging Skin

Shopping for Adult Incontinence Products Online

People are often embarrassed to purchase incontinence products in person at their local stores. Fortunately, there are plenty of online retailers that sell incontinence supplies and other elder care products and offer discreet shipping. Once you and your loved one find products that work well, joining a subscription service can be helpful, since regular shipments will ensure you never run out of necessary supplies.

For additional help, consider posting your question about incontinence products in the Caregiver Forum to receive answers from experienced members. If you are concerned about being able to afford incontinence supplies, consult the adult diaper bank directory compiled by the nonprofit Simon Foundation for Continence to find products and resources in your area.