19 July 2018

7 things never to say to an incontinence sufferer

People who suffer from incontinence may be uncomfortable talking about their condition. It is important to take their condition into consideration when addressing them.

Urinary incontinence is a symptom of a number of diseases and bladder and urethra defects. According to the South African Journal of Physiotherapy, the percentage of the population affected ranges from 27 to 42%.

Incontinence is not a disease, but it does have significant psychological effects on the sufferer. The embarrassment caused by the condition can affect a person's quality of life.

Patients suffer from anxiety, depression and stress, and this leads to them limiting their social participation. Many people are not comfortable talking about their incontinence and when interacting with them it is important to take their condition into consideration.

1. 'I can’t believe you peed in your pants'

Incontinence is a result of various malfunctions of the bladder and the urethra. Urine leakage cannot be controlled by the person. When it occurs it tends to be highly embarrassing. Pointing it out places further shame on the person, lowering their self-esteem and quality of life. According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, depression is three times more common in incontinent women.

2. 'You should just hold your pee in'

Urge incontinence is when the ability to suppress voiding is next to impossible. This may be as a result of the bladder being overactive or too small. Urgency and frequency are factors that affect patients with urge incontinence most. Asking or telling someone to hold their pee in is of no benefit to them. Incontinent patients tend to avoid social gatherings because of the difficulty locating toilet facilities in time. Researchers from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists note that this also has a drastic impact on the careers of affected patients.

3. 'You smell of urine'

Being unable to control urine flow means that sufferers often wet their clothing and surroundings. Smelling of urine is common, which affects the dignity and self-esteem of patients. Wearing adult diapers assists with this problem. If you know that someone suffers from incontinence, do not mock them for smelling of urine. Instead, politely point it out to them so that they can clean themselves without feeling too self-conscious.

4. 'You should wear diapers'

Someone being unable to control their bladder and wetting themselves is no laughing matter. The experience of wetting themselves causes anxiety and distress, and pointing out that they need to wear diapers further humiliates them. Adult diapers offer support and relief to affected patients, but due to the stigma many avoid using them. Regularly changing one's diaper is also important, as 46% of people with incontinence suffer from incontinence-associated dermatitis.

5. 'You’re too old to be wetting your bed'

Wetting one's bed is not only something that happens to children. People who suffer from urinary incontinence often wet their beds. Some may attempt to get to the toilet but fail to make it in time. This form of bed-wetting is different from bed-wetting caused by psychological stress. Wearing diapers to bed may be a good preventive measure.

6. 'Don't do that when we're being intimate'

Urine leakage and incontinence have the ability to negatively affect the sexual function of patients. According to the South African Journal of Physiotherapy, urine leakage during sexual activity occurs in 12% of women. Incontinence may lead to dyspareunia (difficult or painful sexual intercourse) and anorgasmia (inability to have an orgasm). The majority of incontinent patients' sex lives are, however, unaffected. 

7. 'Control yourself'

Telling someone who suffers from incontinence to control themselves will only humiliate them further. This inability prevents them from participating in many day-to-day activities due to the embarrassment associated with the incident. Withdrawing from sport and recreational activities is common. This is mostly due to the inability to access a toilet in time.

Image credit: iStock


Ask the Expert

Incontinence Expert

Dr Prenevin Govender completed his MBChB at the University of Cape Town in 2001. He obtained his Fellowship of the College of Urologists in 2009 and graduated with distinction for a Masters in Medicine from the University of Cape Town in 2010. His special interests include laparoscopic, pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence surgery. He consults full-time at Life Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont.

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