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World Continence Week: Incontinence is no Laughing Matter

17 June, 2017

It’s that time of the year again when the world celebrates World Continence Awareness Week. ‘Celebrates’ may sound like an unusual word to use when talking about issues such as urinary and faecal  incontinence, but it is important to confidently and loudly give a shout out about the conservative strategies to treat or manage the scourge of incontinence.

Incontinence makes people lose their confidence; it makes them anxious; it causes embarrassment; it makes you feel alone.

Well how lonely can you be when the figures are so staggering? One in three women leak urine; one in five have some faecal incontinence. That means if you have fifteen friends, five of them could leak urine and three of them might have faecal incontinence. In 2010, when the De Loitte Access Economics Report ‘The economic impact of incontinence in Australia’  (1) (which explores the current prevalence and economic impact of incontinence in Australia, and provides an outline of the future projected growth of this burden) was completed, it showed that 4.8 million Australians were currently living with incontinence and this prevalence of urinary, faecal and mixed incontinence is estimated to increase to over 6.4 million Australians by 2030.

You are not alone – it’s just that we as a community still have issues disclosing it. 

65% of women and 30% of men sitting in a GP waiting room report some type of urinary incontinence, yet only 31% of these people report having sought help from a health professional (2)

Why is that? Why as a community do we not encourage people to intervene early and seek conservative help from a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist to fix this problem?

Why don’t GPs say :’Hi Mrs So-and-So, did you know it’s World Continence Awareness Week? Do you have any issues you’d like to raise with me? I reckon Mrs So-and-So would be relieved that the ice had been broken and she could spill her guts about the fact she has stopped exercising because she floods; that she’s spending as much on pads as her daughter is spending on nappies for her grandchild; that she is constantly stressing about potential odour and that she has stopped going on outings with Probus because she’s worried if there will be enough toilet stops.

These are significant quality of life issues that can even turn women into agoraphobes. They make women change their career paths. They make women depressed.

We know education is a cornerstone of treating urinary incontinence and someone who does in fact succeed in making incontinence a laughing matter is Elaine Miller, a Women’s Health Physio and comedienne from Edinburgh, Scotland.

Elaine Miller doing her stuff

Elaine uses jokes and a comedy routine to impart facts and figures about incontinence. She has been a regular participant at The Edinburgh Fringe, at conferences and on talk shows. People listen when satire and humour is used to pass on information. I find it especially works well with memes – I could write a whole paragraph on something, but the words on a picture (which is all a meme is) are far more effective at driving home a point than a whole lots of words.

Humour also breaks down barriers. It makes things not seem so catastrophic. It shows us that we are all vulnerable – from the woman who works on the factory floor, to the CEO of a major company. Elaine is doing an amazing job at all these things because she is not only very funny, but her routine is evidence-based – which is what we should all demand from our health care professionals. If she could travel the country…even the world, spinning her yarns, women everywhere would come out of the woodwork and charge into their nearest (evidence-based) health practitioner and start making the quite simple changes that would significantly help and even cure their urinary incontinence.

Over the course of World Continence Awareness Week I will be posting advice and hints that will change your life. Make sure you keep following. What you do now you know, makes old age much more tolerable.

(1)  https://www.continence.org.au/pages/deloitte-report.html The Economic Impact of Incontinence in Australia, 2010                                                 (2) (Byles & Chiarelli, 2003: Help seeking for urinary incontinence: a survey of those attending GP waiting rooms, Australian and New Zealand Continence Journal).

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