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Tackling a taboo: speaking up about incontinence


New materials will support community care workers in overcoming communication and cultural barriers when discussing continence issues with ethnic communities. 

Incontinence is already one of the least spoken-about health conditions, but discussing such a sensitive issue is even more difficult when you don’t speak English.CFA poster

Community care workers can now access new resources that aim to help them overcome communication and cultural barriers within Australia’s ethnic communities.

An estimated 70 per cent of people affected by incontinence don’t talk about it, according to the Continence Foundation of Australia, the peak national organisation for Australians affected by bladder and bowel control problems.

Not only is a language a potential barrier, cultural attitudes and social taboos common to many ethnic groups make the topic difficult to broach.

Victorian Continence Resource Centre executive officer Lisa Wragg, who has 20 years continence nursing experience in Melbourne’s ethnic communities, has witnessed firsthand the reluctance of members of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities to talk about incontinence.

“A physiotherapist and I recently gave a talk to 71 Greek women aged 65-plus. Not one of them had ever talked about their incontinence – to anyone. Even though in the evaluation we found they all had experienced daily incontinence issues,” Wragg says.

“The next day I gave a talk to a mixed Turkish group of about 30, and found that only three individuals had sought assistance – and they were all men with prostate issues.”

This anecdotal evidence is backed by the Victorian Continence Resource Centre’s 2011 report, Awareness of Incontinence in Ethnic Communities which found that knowledge of the causes and treatment of incontinence is low across CALD communities.

This finding, combined with the low number of calls to the Continence Foundation’s National Continence Helpline by people with CALD backgrounds, gave rise to the national campaign ‘Talk about incontinence: A problem in anyone’s language’.

An important aspect of the campaign is raising the awareness of professionals, such as community care workers, to CALD-specific issues.

The Continence Foundation of Australia has developed 27 language-specific web pages on its website, each linking to 17 downloadable bilingual fact sheets on the most common incontinence issues.

Non-English speaking callers are also encouraged to phone the free and confidential National Continence Helpline (1800 33 00 66) by accessing the Telephone Interpreter Service on 131 450.

The Foundation has also developed interpreting tools for health professionals and interpreters for use within a continence assessment setting.

The Continence Foundation also continues to provide support to health professionals such as community workers and nurses, through online and face-to-face education.

Do you have a resource you want to share? Contact us at editorial@communitycarereview.com.au

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