It’s time to stop shying away from the topic of adult incontinence

Jun 20, 2023
It's time to break the sigma around adult incontinence. Source: Getty

Awkward, embarrassing, stressful – these are words that often come to mind when people think about incontinence issues. It’s a topic shrouded by harmful myths that can leave sufferers feeling isolated, with a recent survey by the Continence Foundation of Australia revealing that 32 per cent of people believe incontinence affects their mental well-being.

With one in three Australian adults experiencing incontinence – and people over the age of 60 substantially more at risk – the stigma surrounding the conversation only exacerbates an already difficult experience. Statistically speaking, most of us will either know someone with incontinence issues or experience it ourselves, so it’s time we brave the topic for once and for all and stop shying away from talking about adult incontinence.

What is continence?

Put simply, continence is the ability to have voluntary control over bladder and bowel function. Incontinence occurs when there is any accidental or involuntary loss of urine from the
bladder (urinary incontinence) or bowel motion, faeces or wind from the bowel (faecal or bowel incontinence). The severity of incontinence can vary from ‘leakage’ through to complete loss of bladder and bowel control.

Facing the reality of incontinence

While anyone can be affected by continence issues, there are certain groups of people more at risk. Of the roughly six million Australians living with incontinence, the vast majority are over the age of 60 or experiencing it as a result of postmenopause, diabetes, disability, arthritis, or prostate problems. 

Despite the impact that incontinence can have on one’s everyday life, the Continence Foundation of Australia found that 62 per cent of people never seek help for their condition. Even though the condition can be treated and at times even cured, the taboo nature of incontinence leaves people dealing with it alone and without any idea how to best manage their needs. This leaves room for harmful myths to take hold.

A perfect example of this is the misconception that by drinking fewer fluids, a person experiencing incontinence can improve their condition. In reality, this can make the condition worse as the body can become dehydrated, causing the bladder to become irritated and increasing incontinence episodes. Without proper education and conversation, this myth continues to impact people living with incontinence, worsening their condition and continuing the cycle of shame and isolation.

Read more: These five healthy habits are key to preventing incontinence

Starting the conversation

It might not be a glamorous talking point, but starting a conversation about continence issues is the only way to kick the stigma to the curb and help people better manage their condition and in some cases, quality of life. Keep in mind that many people feel embarrassed or vulnerable due to their incontinence. 

Approach the discussion with sensitivity and empathy in order to break down the barriers that often stop people from seeking help.

Sourcing the right continence products can also feel like a challenge, with many people too uncomfortable to ask for advice even from medical professionals. 69 per cent of general practitioners s surveyed by the Continence Foundation of Australia revealed that men never or rarely speak about continence issues in their appointments, making it difficult to assist in treating their condition.

Separately, a ConfidenceClub survey of 1,691 respondents reveals 73 per cent received no help in choosing the right product, and only 6% sought advice from a health professional.

Gone are the days when continence products are bulky, expensive, and hard to use. Now there are ample options on the market that can make living with incontinence far easier, whether it’s a professional treatment to minimise or cure the condition, or affordable products, such as special pads and undies that make day-to-day management more comfortable.

Another great way to support someone experiencing incontinence is to educate yourself on simple lifestyle changes that may help them alleviate or better manage their condition. For example, eating a diet high in fibre can help with regular bowel movements, while regular pelvic floor exercises can help to strengthen the muscles used with bladder and bowel control. While many believe that there is nothing that can be done to alleviate their day-to-day experiences with incontinence, the truth is that these basic changes can make a huge difference to both their physical and mental well-being.

With so many Australians struggling both physically and emotionally with their incontinence issues, there has never been a more important time to end the stigma surrounding this condition once and for all. By talking about incontinence openly and without judgement, we can empower those living with the condition to reclaim their life and confidence.

Read more: Pelvic floor exercises to help strengthen the bladder and prevent incontinence

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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