Incontinence Afflicts More Than 10% of Americans

Here is medical and practical advice for those who suffer from incontinence and those who care for them

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Incontinence may never be a cocktail-party topic, but in an aging society it needs to shed its taboo status. An estimated 33 million Americans suffer from incontinence, according to the International Continence Society and SCA, a global hygiene company and maker of the TENA brand of personal-care products.

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Of course, these numbers will get larger as society gets older. But they already are large enough. Incontinence sufferers as well as caregivers surely could use more support and reassurance. It is hard not to be embarrassed when you've lost some degree of bladder or bowel control. But when you're in the same boat as 33 million other people, it should be a bit easier to take.

In nearly all cases, no one is at fault here. Incontinence is not a victimless crime but rather a creator of crime-less victims. Still, less than half the people with urinary incontinence seek medical care. The real shame in this is that incontinence often can be treated and its effects lessened if not eliminated by attention to underlying physical problems.

Beyond its direct effects on sufferers, incontinence also inflicts a physical and mental toll on caregivers. Many caregivers experience depression from dealing with a loved one's incontinence. It is stressful to change someone else's incontinence products. And when the caregiver is also a relative or other loved one, incontinence can damage their relationship. More dramatically, incontinence can be the "trigger" that leads to decisions to remove sufferers from their homes and place them in a nursing home or assisted-living facility.

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According to international research cited by SCA, there are several risk factors for people who care for someone with incontinence, correlated with their worsening wellbeing:

-- Poor access to quality advice and support

-- Older age of either the caregiver or the relative (or both)

-- Spending over five years as a significant caregiver

-- Lower income

-- Being a male caring for a female spouse or relative

Bruno Zepeda, vice president of SCA Personal Care North America, laid out the following steps for taking care of your bladder health:

Don't ignore irregularities. Since incontinence can be a symptom of other problems in the body, it's important to have it treated early. If something seems irregular, be sure to update your physician.

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Get educated on your options. Understanding the options available for improving your day-to-day life can help you select the course of action that is right for you—whether it be one or a combination of lifestyle changes, medications, surgery or specially designed personal care protection products.

Practice healthy habits. There are simple steps you can take to reduce risks and lessen symptom severity:

Drink adequately. Don't avoid drinking enough water when experiencing incontinence. Drink 6-8 cups of fluids per day, more when it is hot or when exercising.

Don't ignore the need to go. Most people empty their bladder about every 3-4 hours during the day (4-8 times a day).

Dietary changes can help. Foods and beverages containing caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes can increase risk, while proper intake of vitamin D can help protect against incontinence.