Thousands of Kiwis Needlessly Suffering Incontinence in Silence

( Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders over the age of 15 are suffering from some form of incontinence, costing the country billions of dollars every year.

According to the New Zealand Continence Association, there are more than 600,000 Kiwis over the age of 15 with urinary or bowel incontinence, or both. It is estimated that by 2030, as the population ages, one in four New Zealanders will have some form of incontinence.

Economically, incontinence costs New Zealand $8.05 billion each year in health costs, lost productivity, care and other indirect costs.

But the number of people with a bowel or bladder weakness and the cost on society needn’t be that high.

Jan Zander, Chief Executive of the New Zealand Continence Association, says people are most at risk of bladder and bowel problems if they are pregnant, ever had a baby, experienced menopause or had prostrate problems.

But with the right help, the symptoms can be managed, she says.

“Incontinence can have a huge effect on a person’s quality of life and unfortunately there’s a misconception that it can’t be treated, but that’s not the case at all,” says Mrs Zander.

“Bladder and bowel issues won’t go away on their own, but treated properly many people notice a significant improvement in their lives.”

Renowned international physiotherapist Michelle Kenway agrees, and says unfortunately the thousands of Kiwis suffering from incontinence are doing so in silence.

She says often people don’t seek professional help and advice because they have been led to believe that incontinence can’t be treated.

“In a lot of cases it can be effectively treated, and in many cases cured, with the right kind of exercise,” says the author of Inside Out, a complete guide to safe pelvic floor exercise, which is receiving international acclaim.

“Some exercises can detrimentally affect the pelvic floor, which is why it’s so important to seek professional advice rather than going at it alone,” she adds.

Lisa Yates, a New Zealand physiotherapist with a special interest in continence and women’s health, says more education on incontinence and how it can be managed and treated is desperately needed.

“Despite the fantastic work of the New Zealand Continence Association, I believe there is still a lack of education in New Zealand, which has been compounded by funding cuts. The fact that bowel or bladder weakness isn’t a terminal illness or a disease means that it’s not a high priority for many district health boards,” she says.

“Incontinence doesn’t discriminate. There are over 60,000 women in New Zealand every year that have babies and one in every three will end up leaking urine and one in two with some form of prolapse. Many women with minor prolapse will have no idea.”

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Media Release 3 November 2011.