Taking stigma off incontinence
Contributing columnist Lenna Scott GRID: Senior column tease pic
Updated: February 8, 2013 1:14PM
Watching daytime TV, and all of the commercials for incontinence products, one might think that incontinence is a normal part of life and aging.
While television commercials do help in decreasing the stigma attached to incontinence, it is still a very sensitive subject and experts say that is not something that individuals should just live with.
“Incontinence is a symptom of something else happening in the body,” says Cheryle Gartley, president of The Simon Foundation for Continence, based in Wilmette. “As we age there are changes in the body. That very fact can make [seniors] more susceptible to incontinence.”
Gartley says that talking about incontinence can be challenging for many people, but she believes that it is so important for seniors, and others, who experience symptoms of incontinence, to talk with their physicians so that the underlying reasons can be explored.
“Incontinence is a generic term for the way that the bladder is misbehaving,” Gartley said. “Specifically say what is going on to your doctor. Do you leak urine when you lift your grandchild or when you sneeze or laugh? That is one set of circumstances that indicates stress urinary incontinence.
“Do you have a sudden urge to urinate and it may or may not be associated with leakage? That’s overactive bladder and that’s caused by something different in the body.”
She also says that there is a lot of misunderstanding about issues relating to incontinence and the bladder. “Most people do not understand that the bladder is a muscle. They think of it as a vessel. That misperception leads to some things that aren’t good for the bladder.” Gartley said that when someone stops to use the bathroom when they do not have the urge, but are going “just in case,” it can actually create problems, rather than helping. “If the bladder never gets the chance to fill to its full capacity, like any other muscle that isn’t used, it doesn’t get the chance to do the job it was designed to do and you increase the chance of a misbehaving bladder.”
Gartley also understands that people may be embarrassed to talk about incontinence problems. She says although it may be difficult, it’s important to remember that physicians and nurses are used to these issues and they are trained to help.
“We’ve done work on stigma a lot in health care.” said Gartley, who started the Simon Foundation 30 years ago because of a personal experience with incontinence. She started to look for help herself, and couldn’t locate any support. Shortly after starting the organization they were featured in an Ann Landers column. A few days later they received a call from the post office: 30,000 pieces of mail from people impacted by incontinence had arrived. “The need was unbelievable,” she recalls.
The Simon Foundation just published a new book, “Managing Life with Incontinence,” to support families and individuals. Gartley says the book is unique because in addition to providing information about how to talk to doctors, family and friends and what resources are available, there are stories of individuals who actually are affected by incontinence. The Simon Foundation can be contacted online at www.simonfoundation.org or (800) 23-SIMON.
Lenna Scott is the Director of Marketing at The Wealshire, a short-term rehab, skilled nursing and assisted living community in Lincolnshire. She lives in Buffalo Grove with her husband and two children. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org