Continence: The taboo topic we need to talk about

June 20, 2022

Nearly 10 per cent of Canadians have a condition that seriously impacts their quality of life, causing social isolation and withdrawal. It’s a widespread problem, especially with older adults because it increases with aging, yet more than half won’t discuss their condition with a primary care provider. It is the number one reason for premature admission to long-term care homes.

We’re talking about urinary incontinence. 

Bowel and bladder function have historically been a taboo subject that people are embarrassed to discuss. But 3.5 million Canadians find they leak urine when they walk, cough, sneeze, laugh, lift or exercise, or find they aren’t able to make it to the bathroom “in time.” 

“Urinary incontinence is a sensitive topic and often a secret. If health-care providers don’t create a safe space to talk about it, people won’t tell. Because they are unaware they can get the help they need, people may withdraw from activities, become isolated and experience a reduced quality of life,” says Mary Kjorven, an Interior Health clinical nurse specialist and nurse continence advisor.

According to the Canadian Urinary Bladder Survey, 16 per cent of men and 33 per cent of women over the age of 40 have symptoms of urinary incontinence. 

Despite popular misconceptions, urinary incontinence is not a normal part of aging. It is a treatable symptom of a medical condition.  

There are a wide range of therapies available, ranging from the non-invasive (lifestyle modifications, behavioral changes, fluid changes), to medications and surgical procedures.

Education is key and there are a number of resources available, including services from a nurse continence advisor, physiotherapists with specialties in pelvic floor function, nurses specializing in wound, ostomy and continence, and evidence-based websites, including the Canadian Continence Foundation.

“Getting help early prevents the problem from getting worse,” says Mary. “We have done a great job improving oral health in our society - we have incorporated brushing our teeth into our daily routines and as a result children get fewer cavities. We need to do the same thing with bowel and bladder health, beginning by making it safe to talk about.”

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