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Urinary incontinence in older people in the community: a neglected problem?

BACKGROUND: The prevalence and impact of urinary incontinence has been investigated much less in older men than in older women. It is suggested that those who perceive that their daily lives are affected should have priority for services. However, many people do not seek medical help, even though they may be severely affected.

AIM: To investigate unmet need in relation to the prevalence and impact on everyday life of urinary incontinence in men and women over the age of 65 years.

DESIGN OF STUDY: Cross-sectional survey to measure prevalence of urinary incontinence, the impact on people's lives, use of protection, and health services.

SETTING: Stratified random sample of 2000 community-living elderly (equal numbers of men and women, aged 65 to 74 years and over 75 years) in 11 general practices in a British city.

RESULTS: The response rate was 79%. The overall prevalence of incontinence in the previous month was 31% for women and 23% for men. Women generally had more severe frequency of incontinence and a greater degree of wetness than men. Protection use was greater in women than in men. Only 40% of men and 45% of women with incontinence had accessed health services. Significant predictors of the use of health services were: incontinence reported as a problem, increased frequency of incontinence, and greater degree of wetness. About one-third of people who leaked with severe frequency or who reported that it was a problem had not accessed NHS services for incontinence.

CONCLUSIONS: Urinary incontinence is a common problem for older men and women living in the community and can have a deleterious effect on their lives. There is the opportunity to improve the lives of many older people with urinary incontinence, probably by a combination of increased public, patient, and professional awareness that should lead to earlier presentation and initiation of effective care.

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