Incontinence is a condition that often gets associated with age. When we think about incontinence we tend to think first about elderly people and that’s normal because over 60% of nursing home residents are affected with some kind of incontinence (from mild to severe). However, European studies estimate that between 4% and 8% of the total population are affected, regardless of age. As our populations grow older, it is fair to say that more and more people will suffer from it. This could be your neighbour’s condition and you wouldn’t even know about it!
Incontinence has adverse effects on the quality of daily life. These can include social isolation, sadness and in more serious cases it can lead to staying away from work, or even to depression. How patients experience and perceive incontinence is important because it drives patient’s behaviour. Just think about having a serious bladder infection or imagine having diarrhea for few days. How would this affect YOUR quality of life?
Studies show that only 20% of incontinence patients can be cured depending on type and stage of incontinence. This means that 80% of all incontinence patients must live with the inconveniences of their incontinence in their working and/or social environment if they do not get the proper help. As it turns out, people often try to hide it and simply live with it instead of asking for medical help. This can be explained by the simple fact that many people suffering from incontinence find it hard to discuss their condition with their doctors and even try to manage the problem themselves, often taking inappropriate measures which can make the situation worse.
It is difficult to evaluate exactly how many people suffer from incontinence and, due to lack of available data and different financing silos (prevention – cure – care), it is almost impossible to estimate how much it costs our economies. The perception is that the sooner the patient is diagnosed and gets the proper treatment, the lower the long term cost is for the society.
Women are supposedly more prone to suffering from incontinence than men. There are stories of women who managed to be successful despite their condition. For instance, Mari Lou Retton, a US-born gymnast and Olympic gold-medallist, won no less than five medals during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Yet, she has been suffering for years from an overactive bladder, a form of incontinence that would have her running to the bathroom up to 25 times a day.
I believe that incontinence is a condition that must be taken seriously, and I am not the only one. The World Health Organization (WHO) already acknowledged this and classified 6 different types of incontinence in its International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems.
Mari Lou Retton’s story should be the story of any woman or man suffering from incontinence. Incontinence should not be the driver of one’s life and prevent a person from being successful and active members of society.
Today, there are solutions to effectively manage many types of incontinence. The medical technology industry manufactures innovative products such as incontinence pads and pants or male external urinary sheaths and catheters that offer security, comfort, discretion and odour control. They allow people to maintain their sense of dignity and engender the confidence that allows them to leave their homes, go to work and take part in social activities enabling them to lead a full and satisfying life.
Unfortunately, people with incontinence often don’t know about these products and doctors might not have the most recent updates on the existing aids. Affordability might be also an issue in some cases.
So what do we do then? What can we do to make sure that people benefit from the latest innovative products at an affordable price?
I am part of the Eucomed Community Care Sector Group. We have been actively working on the topic of incontinence over the last months. We believe that incontinent patient’s quality of life can significantly improve thanks to the use of the right absorbing aid, provided that several major issues are addressed.
We recently launched a position paper on incontinence to express the view of the medical technology industry about the needs and benefits of a well-functioning, sustainable and affordable reimbursement system for patients, payers and suppliers.
It will ensure that the absorbing aids are reimbursed for all patients, that both patients and carers have access to product and service information, and that personalised product selection is granted. We believe that incontinence should be recognised as set of diseases (I used the word “condition” intentionally in my blog) and not as a commodity business, and product listening should be based on transparent criteria. But there is more to it.
To find out more, please read our position paper ‘Patient-centred, affordable and sustainable system for incontinence absorbing aids’. The group looks forward to reading your suggestions and ideas to ensure that incontinence is no more a silent disease.
– Eszter Kacskovics, Public & Regulatory Affairs Manager Health Care Europe, SCA Hygiene Products
 Eucomed position paper ‘Patient-centred, affordable and sustainable system for incontinence absorbing aids’, October 2011