More than 315,000 Australians live with severe incontinence, requiring help managing their bladder or bowel and even a continence aide, according to a new report released this week by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The report, Incontinence in Australia: prevalence, experience and cost, also shows that the cost associated with the provision of caring are massive, extending not only to monetary terms but a loss of workforce productivity or labor force participants.
It uses 2009 data and shows that two thirds of people experiencing incontinence are female (66 per cent).
A smaller, but still substantial number of about 144,000 people always needed help or supervision with their bladder or bowel control.
“Incontinence affects people’s ability to take part in education, employment and social situations,” said AIHW spokesperson Brent Diverty.
“In 2009, only one in five people aged 15-64 who always or sometimes needed assistance with bladder or bowel control were working or looking for work.”
“This was substantially lower than for those who had difficulty with bladder or bowel control but needed no assistance (42 per cent) and those who had no difficulty at all (57 per cent).”
There were 72,900 primary carers in 2009 who helped with another person’s incontinence, along with other needs for support and assistance.
Three quarters of these carers (73 per cent) spent 40 or more hours a week actively caring or supervising, and the toll on their wellbeing was more than for carers whose support and assistance did not include help with incontinence.
“For example, 50 per cent of primary carers helping with managing bladder or bowel control said they had a change in their physical or emotional wellbeing.
“Around 45 per cent reported weariness and lacking energy, and 40 per cent reported worry or depression. This compares with less than a third for each of these factors, for carers whose support and assistance did not include help with managing incontinence,” Mr Diverty said.
“The higher needs of people with incontinence and the greater impact on primary carers may be directly due to incontinence, or the different types and severity of disability of people who have incontinence, or both.”
In 2008-09, health care spending for incontinence was about $202 million (not including residential aged care costs).
The largest share of this spending ($146 million, or 72%) in 2008-09 was for admitted patient hospital services. The Continence Aids Assistant Scheme and out-of-hospital medical services cost $32 million and $18 million respectively.
A more detailed report on incontinence is expected to be released by AIHW in 2013.
The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia’s health and welfare.