Elders have a very prestigious position in India. To respect an elder is hard-coded into our culture and mythos; one’s parents are supposed to be one’s idols. There are innumerable stories about how much we can learn from our elders, and how valuable they are to the younger generation. Stemming from the pressure of such expectations, perhaps, we are starting to turn a blind-eye towards their issues.
India has numerous problems with taking care of its senior citizens—from dismal healthcare to a severe shortage of infrastructure facilities for the elderly. Some issues, however, do not even receive the dignity of discussion. Adult incontinence (urine leakage) is one such issue, and it is time that we discuss it openly. Millions of adults, especially seniors, in India suffer from UI (urinary incontinence), and it is what is referred to as a keystone problem—the problem itself is small, but it sets off a series of reactions which can drastically impact the quality of life of the affecting person as well as their family members.
As the issue is about “toilet problems”, most individuals feel ashamed to even bring it up. This shame leads several people to hide the problem or indeed change their entire lifestyle.
The onset of UI is completely normal, a biological degradation, much like wrinkles. Women suffer from incontinence more than men, which can be a simple by side-effect of pregnancy. However, as the issue is about “toilet problems”, most individuals feel ashamed to even bring it up. This shame leads several people to hide the problem or indeed change their entire lifestyle. The simple act of watching TV with the family can be wrought with tension about “staining” the couch. Additionally, we do not have large-scale education or awareness campaigns as we do with other conditions or problems. The build-up of (unwarranted) shame is often enough to spark depression, which acts as a gateway to a myriad of other physiological and psychological problems.
Depression can also stem from something as innocuous as a broken sleep cycle. The simple act of waking for the bathroom multiple times a night is enough to disturb the normal mental makeup of an individual, due to lack of deep sleep. Incontinence is also a common side-effect of diabetes, prostate cancer, urinary tract infections (UTIs), weakened bladder muscles, menopause, etc. Thus, usually, a patient has far more severe issues to worry about than urine leakage.
However, due to the “perceived shame” associated with it, this is the issue that weighs down an individual the most. UI also gets in the way of general activity and exercise, thus ensnaring a senior in a vicious spiral of worsening health.
The responsibility falls upon us to address this issue with the seniors we care about. The same elders who are too embarrassed to discuss their own health with their own family.
There are thousands of such seniors who have voluntarily locked themselves in their homes just to avoid discussing this issue. Research about adult diapers has shown that the users themselves are the biggest barriers to product adoption. If a person is in denial about an issue, then there seems very little progress can be made. Thus, the responsibility falls upon us, as caretakers and well-wishers, to address this issue with the seniors we care about. The same elders who are too embarrassed to discuss their own health with their own family.
For the sake of openness and growth, we must broach this topic in our own homes. We all wish for “cool” grandparents as Bollywood packages them for us. We are all eager to discuss topics such as live-in relationships and homosexuality with them so that we can help open their minds. However, we must be open to uncomfortable topics too! We must be willing to discuss topics which make both parties uncomfortable, topics that provide for genuine growth and relief. This simple act can act as a catalyst towards greatly improving an elder’s life, and may provide him or her some much-needed support and dignity.
All of us are biased about something, but let us aim to shed one today. Let us talk openly about incontinence in our own homes. It is the very least that we can do for our seniors. Do leave your comments here.