The Bladder and Bowel Foundation estimates that one in four of us will have a problem with bladder control at some point in our lives, and one in ten people will have problems with bowel control. This evidence shows that surprisingly more people have incontinence than epilepsy, asthma and diabetes combined. However, incontinence remains a secret struggle for most people.
Gill Turton, spokeswoman for the Bladder and Bowel Foundation states, “We know that many people keep their incontinence a secret, even from their loved ones, for many years”. This attitude is often present due to a number of negative myths and ideas people have about incontinence that are simply not true. These include the common impression that incontinence only happens to the elderly. People, therefore, often feel that it should be embarrassing for young people to suffer from incontinence. However, anyone can develop symptoms no matter what age they are. Almost 5 million people in the UK under the age of 24 are thought to have experienced a bladder or bowel control problem.
Another common myth about incontinence is that it should be something people should just learn to live with. However, in most cases, urinary incontinence can be greatly reduced or eliminated through behavioural therapies, medications, dietary changes or surgery to alleviate underlying problems.
Possibly the most popular mindset that incontinence sufferers have however is that incontinence is supposed to be hidden and can be managed simply with a sanitary towel or even left alone. However, this is the least effective way to go about the problem. If you are suffering from incontinence, it is vital that you seek support and look for a product specially designed for managing urinary or faecal incontinence.
These common myths, therefore, leave people to suffer in silence and have made incontinence even less of a social topic to discuss. Dr Todd Wagner states, “Incontinence has been associated with falls, functional decline, nursing home admissions, social isolation, and depressive symptoms, and patients often say, “Incontinence doesn’t kill you, but it takes your life away.” Research by NTC in June 2016 revealed that 33% of those who develop incontinence after childbirth were embarrassed to discuss it with their partners, and almost 46% were uncomfortable talking about it with friends. Alarmingly, 4 in 10 women said they were self-conscious speaking about the problem with a healthcare professional. Dr Sarah McMullen, NTC Head of Knowledge asserted that these results are “perfectly understandable.” McMullen admits, “many find it a difficult and embarrassing subject to raise.”
There is clearly a striking problem in that people simply are not willing to talk about incontinence, and people feel more isolated as a consequence. As McMullen states, “if we can break the taboo, we can bring about a change that will dramatically improve the lives of thousands of people.”
What can you do to help break the taboo of incontinence?
- Have honest discussions with Doctors and Nurses
It is not uncommon for people of all ages to wait 1-3 years before seeking help. The majority of people are either unaware of available treatment whilst others have low expectations of the benefits of treatment. A national survey of women with incontinence indicated that over 50% wait longer than a year before talking to a doctor.
Professor Mandy Fader insists that there is an urgent need to talk to doctors about incontinence and boost creativity among medical manufacturers. The more people reach out to doctors and nurses, the more hospitals and healthcare providers can investigate bladder control products and improve the products which are already available. Fader states that it is much more common for men to resist being honest with a professional than it is for women. She asserts, “If men realised that it is quite a common condition and made more of a fuss, there would be even more improvements made within the industry. This would additionally quickly raise incontinence awareness.” Pads are now made with a super-absorbent gel which reduces odour and stops leakage, the two main fears of discovery. The design of incontinence products has also improved over the years, as there are now pads specifically for both men and women.
If you do decide to talk to a doctor or professional about your incontinence and tell the people around you that you have done so, this might encourage others to do the same. Ultimately, people are encouraged to be pro-active and talk about weak bladder control or faecal control when they see others around them talking about a similar problem.
If you do not want to see your GP, you can usually make an appointment at your local NHS continence service without a referral. These clinics are staffed by specialist nurses who can offer useful advice about incontinence.
- Educate others about the correct terminology
When discussing incontinence, each person is likely to prefer a different term to describe their problem. For example, some people may feel comfortable with the phrase “incontinence”, yet others may prefer “bladder leakage” or “weak bladder control”.
However, it is important that people are educated and understand the meaning of commonly used words when talking about incontinence. This can decrease the risk of words seeming intimidating or carrying negative connotations. If you or someone close to you is suffering from incontinence, you may want to be aware of the following basic terms:
Stress incontinence- this type of incontinence is defined by urine leakages occurring when pressure on your bladder increases such as when you exercise, laugh or cough.
Urge Incontinence- people suffering from urge incontinence have a regular and an urgent need to go to the bathroom and often may not get there in time.
Causes of overactive bladder include damage to the bladder’s nerves, damage to other parts of the nervous system and damage to muscles.
Overflow Incontinence- if you are unable to completely empty your bladder, you may have overflow incontinence. You may not be able to sense that your bladder is full, which means you may dribble urine.
Causes of this include weak bladder muscles, weak nerves, conditions that block the flow of urine, constipation and certain medications.
Heavy incontinence- people who lose incredibly heavy amounts of urine without warning and experience bedwetting suffer from heavy incontinence.
Functional Incontinence- mental or physical problems such as Dementia or Arthritis can prevent you from getting to the bathroom in time.
Bowel incontinence- bowel incontinence is an inability to control bowel movements, resulting in involuntary soiling. It’s also sometimes known as faecal incontinence.
- Encourage conversation
Family caregivers are often the ones to notice that an elder loved one is experiencing weak bladder control or faecal control, however, research has shown that family members often avoid discussing the problem. Having a conversation with someone about their incontinence is something which people often dread. However, the more you encourage them to talk about their condition, the more you can help them to see that it shouldn’t be an avoided, taboo subject.
You may want to start the conversation by suggesting some ideal products that may be of use to them based on their incontinence problem. For example, if they suffer from night time incontinence, you may want to begin by showing them some waterproof bed pads. If you know that they would prefer an incontinence pad that is discrete and unnoticeable, suggest a product you have found online that may grab their attention.
It is important to be gentle, understanding and to reassure someone with incontinence that this is a common problem. Working hard to ensure that communication on the subject is a regular thing can be a large step in combating the taboo of incontinence.