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It is estimated that almost 280,000 people suffer from the involuntary loss of urine in New Zealand. Our large baby boomer population is now moving through menopause when urinary incontinence often becomes worse. Although incontinence may occur much earlier than the menopausal years (pregnancy and child birth being major contributors), it often worsens during this phase of a woman’s life.
It’s difficult to imagine the devastating impact incontinence can have on a person's life without experiencing it directly. This is a condition that people feel they must hide from others and talk about only in hushed voices behind closed doors. But the next time you are at the supermarket, take a look at the size of the product display for absorbent pads for urinary incontinence. The rules of supply-and-demand being what they are, supermarkets just do not put out large displays of goods they do not sell! The rate at which these products sell is astounding, so who do you think is buying them?
Urinary incontinence is often thought of as an old person’s problem, usually occurring only in the elderly in nursing homes or those with chronic and debilitating diseases. Well, consider that one in three women who have ever had a baby have suffered incontinence at some stage! Forty per cent of women in the 30-44 age group suffer urinary incontinence whilst the frequency continues to rise to 50% in the 45-59 age group. And yet few women talk about it! An estimated 50% of sufferers do not discuss their incontinence, even with their GPs 1. Most women are too embarrassed to mention it even to their friends, and just go about changing and altering their lives so as to avoid embarrassment to themselves.
Urinary incontinence can be devastating psychologically as well as emotionally and physically to a woman. Statistics do not show the deeper social cost – psycho-social problems arising from lowered levels of exercise, from depression and social isolation. Incontinence impacts on self-esteem, confidence, dignity and independence, robbing the community of the significant social input of people with high levels of skill and expertise. It lowers productivity and length of participation in the workforce.
Many women leak urine with just about any kind of exercise or exertion. Women who do exercise on a regular basis have simply quit; they just do not like to smell like urine when they finish. Mothers may stop running or playing ball with their children because they know they will leak. When they are in a group of people interacting socially, they are careful not to laugh for fear of being incontinent. If they are sitting and a joke is told, they cross their legs tightly before the punch line so as not leak when they laugh. Or, they cancel dinners and parties and stop going out in public for fear of embarrassment. They may dread getting a cold or cough, because they know when they start sneezing or coughing they will repeatedly wet themselves. They may always carry an extra set of underwear in their purses so they can make a quick exit and change when the next inevitable accident occurs. Women who enjoy dancing/golf/running/community work/bowls/etc may stop because they cannot participate without leakage and are too embarrassed of smelling like urine.
So why do people put up with this problem? Perhaps because they are too embarrassed to seek treatment, or they presume this is a normal part of aging, or they do not know there are treatment options available. The unfortunate thing for these people is that most types of urinary incontinence can be treated in some manner. The first step is to talk to someone! Begin by bringing it up and talking to your doctor about it, and tell them you want to find out about all your options. Many are very simple, but it is going to be up to you to ask and seek them! You can return to a more dynamic and rewarding life -- you just have to be brave and assertive enough to ask.