World Continence Week (WCW) is a global event organised by the World Federation of Incontinence Patients to raise awareness of continence issues and help improve the health, wellness and quality of life of sufferers. In its 11th year, WCW is taking place from 17–23 June 2019.
What is incontinence?
Incontinence is the inability to control your bladder or bowel. The results can be mild, moderate or heavy and can be caused by multiple factors. Incontinence is estimated to affect around 12% of women and 5% of men worldwide – that’s over 423 million people over 20 years old!
Although urinary incontinence is more prevalent, faecal incontinence is reported to occur in about 6% of those under 40 and up to 15% of older people.
It’s important to distinguish the type of incontinence because it helps to identify the underlying cause and determine the treatment required. Both urinary and bowel incontinence are divided into temporary and persistent types. Urinary incontinence (UI) is further subdivided into three main subtypes:
- Stress UI: caused by coughing, sneezing or lifting heavy objects
- Urgency UI: caused by a strong and sudden urge
- Mixed UI: a combination of stress and urgency UI
The main causes of incontinence
There are many causes of incontinence, including a wide range of health conditions and environmental factors, which emphasises the fact that it can affect people at any age. Urinary and faecal incontinence can be associated with:
- Diseases: Such as arthritis, diabetes and Parkinsons
- Health factors: Pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, surgery, spinal injury, changes in the nerves controlling the bladder, enlarged prostate, overactive bladder.
- Environmental factors: Inaccessible, unsafe or unclean toilet facilities, and the absence of a caregiver to help with toileting.
- Lifestyle and behaviours: Obesity, smoking, high-impact exercise, smoking.
How can incontinence impacts lives?
Incontinence can have a profound impact on the quality of life, relationships, levels of depression and the need for care.
Sufferers may have problems with employment due to the difficulty of managing the condition. Performing physical tasks may trigger leakages and work may be frequently interrupted for toilet breaks. Additionally, sleep deprivation and impeded concentration may also be present. Studies have found up to 30% of women with UI have to take time off work, losing almost 30 hours a year.
Practical concerns in managing incontinence can make people unwilling to leave their home for shopping or leisure because there is no guarantee that there’ll be suitable toilet facilities available.
Over 50% of incontinence sufferers do not seek medical help due to misinterpretation of symptoms, misbeliefs, unawareness or shame, which exacerbates their ability to manage it.
World continence week provides the opportunity to break the stigma around incontinence to help those suffering from the condition are informed on how to get help if needed, or even be cured. It also serves as a platform to educate the wider public and highlight the need for better facilities particularly to those responsible for washrooms in businesses and public places.
Adapting washrooms to be better suited to everyone’s needs
Everyone needs access to suitable washroom facilities at work or when visiting public places, but people with bladder and bowel problems need to use these facilities more frequently, more urgently and need more time. They’re also likely to need more specialised features in the washroom to cope with their condition, which, as a basic measure, could be just more space.
Managers of washroom facilities should be aware of their needs and offer all the facilities that enable incontinence sufferers to manage their condition. All washroom facilities should have:
- Clean hand washing facilities
- Handwashing facilities in the toilet cubicle
- Space to change a disposable product or empty a human-waste collection bag
- Discreet and hygienic disposal facilities for absorbent hygiene products, which include bladder and bowel control products
Although there is currently no legal requirement to support incontinence in public washrooms in most countries, increasing awareness of incontinence is putting pressure on legislation to recognise the needs of the ‘invisible disability’.
Hygiene facilities have often neglected in men’s washrooms but we now see the tide starting to turn, for example, with Germany introducing new legislation to provide hygienic disposal facilities in workplace washrooms for men.
As incontinence increases, all businesses have a duty of care to manage waste appropriately. Not simply to avoid the negative impact of brand, business and revenue but to responsibly cater to these invisible disabilities so no one has to suffer in silence.