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 eleventh year, WCW is taking place during 17–23 June in 2019.
What is incontinence?
Incontinence is the inability to control your bladder or bowel so that you accidentally lose urine or faeces. The leakage 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.
Combined faecal and urinary incontinence affects about 10% of women and 6% of men who are not in care, and rises to almost 50% of people in care homes.
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, which combines stress and urgency UI
Causes of incontinence
- Diseases: Urinary and faecal incontinence are associated with a number of chronic diseases, including arthritis, diabetes, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, prostate cancer, COPD, bowel cancer, colitis, Crohn’s disease, haemorrhoids.
- Health factors: Pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, surgery (eg bowel, prostate), spinal injury, changes in the nerves controlling the bladder, pelvic floor or bowel, enlarged prostate (for men), weak bowel muscles, 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, diet that includes caffeine, alcohol, spicy and acidic foods, smoking.
The impact of incontinence
Incontinence can have a profound impact on 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, work may be frequently interrupted for toilet breaks and they may suffer from sleep deprivation and impeded concentration. 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 when they need them. In addition, 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.
WCW provides the opportunity to bring awareness both to those who do not have the condition so they understand it better and are aware of the need for better facilities, and to those suffering from it so they are informed of how to get help, if needed, or even be cured. Those responsible for washrooms in businesses and public places will also become more aware of the needs of incontinence sufferers.
Adapting washrooms to user needs
Health conditions that affect incontinence, such as obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases, are becoming more common. This combined with an aging population, means the number of people suffering from incontinence is set to rise.
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 handwashing 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
Facilities to hygienically dispose of sanitary waste products are often neglected in men’s washrooms in particular, which has resulted in new legislative changes. For example, Germany has pioneered legislation requiring the provision of hygienic disposal facilities in workplace washrooms for men. Although, in most countries, there is no legal requirement to support incontinence in public washrooms, increasing awareness of incontinence is likely to lead to pressure for legislation to recognise the needs of the “invisible disabilities” of bladder and bowel control.
Several large retailers in the UK have already recognised these needs. They’ve changed the signs on their accessible toilets to include a symbol showing people standing, alongside the familiar wheelchair, and added the slogan “not every disability is visible”.
While all businesses have a duty of care to manage waste appropriately, inadequate facilities can lead to negative impressions of businesses and impact on brand reputation and even revenue, if visitors cut down their ‘dwell’ time.
As the incidence of bowel and urinary incontinence is increasing, there’s a need for better facilities to be provided in public places. Facility managers of offices, schools, hotels, shopping centres and other public facilities have a responsibility to improve their washrooms to cater for these invisible disabilities so no one has to suffer in silence.
Please feel free to contact us or call us on 0808 231 9212, and we will be more than happy to help.