What is Incontinence?

Incontinence is a lack of control of excretory function that can be brought on by a variety of disease states and can affect all age groups, but especially afflicts the elderly who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, Cerebral Vascular Accidents (stroke), Parkinson’s disease, and many others. The International Continence Society (ICS) states that Urinary Incontinence (UI) is a stigmatized and under-reported condition that has not been properly addressed.

Currently, there are approximately 25 million adult Americans who experience transient or chronic incontinence, 9 to 13 million of whom have severe symptoms. It is also estimated that as many as 200 million people worldwide suffer from varying degrees of incontinence. And with 1.5 billion baby-boomers predicted to live longer with chronic illnesses, the number of people who suffer from episodes of incontinence is projected to grow exponentially.

More than half of all residents in nursing homes today are incontinent, and it is the second leading cause for admission. Twenty-two percent of continent female residents admitted to a long-term care facility become incontinent within one year of admission. The National Association for Continence says that oftentimes patients who could remain in their homes and remain mobile in the community are instead admitted to nursing homes due to the family’s difficulty in managing their loved-one’s incontinence.

Incontinence and Dementia

Dementia is a loss of brain function that affects approximately 24 million people worldwide; its most severe form, Alzheimer’s disease, currently affects more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. alone, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Dementia is devastating as it progresses, affecting memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior. Urinary and fecal incontinence is more often than not present in those who are affected with varying forms of dementia. This loss in bodily functioning may be inevitable, and can be uncomfortable and embarrassing to the patient. For reasons largely unknown to the medical community, the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia is increasing.

Current Methods for Managing Incontinence

Chronic incontinence is typically managed using adult diapers or briefs and a system of regular monitoring and diaper changes by caregivers. Frequently, however, urine output exceeds a breif’s capacity and uncontrollable accidents occur. Most often the caregiver’s “best practice” is to line a chair or bed with one or more absorbent under pads (commonly referred to as a “chux” pad) as a back-up to the diaper or brief. In severe cases, many go so far as to cover furnishings with garbage bags or shower curtains to form a protective barrier. But caregivers universally agree that in cases of severe incontinence, most current methods for keeping furnishings and automobile seats free of stains and odor are ineffective. Furthermore, current methods compromise an individual’s dignity.

In-home Caregivers

The 2009 Caregiving in the U.S. survey, sponsored by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, documented the prevalence of caregiving in the US. The study found that more than one in three US households, or an estimated 48.9 million caregivers, are informal caregivers for a person older than age 18. This report also found that 86 percent were providing care to a relative, more than one-third caring for a parent. The typical caregiver is a 48-year-old woman, with at least some college education, who provides more than 20 hours of care each week.

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