During the last two support meetings that Malecare has held in New York City, part of the conversation has turned to the topic of incontinence and diapers. We have a few members of the group who have had recent surgery and have been struggling with their inability to control their urine. Surgery, radiation and just the aging process is taking a toll on us. It feels to me that most of us, when we are post treatment, have to deal with some level of incontinence.

The range of incontinence goes from a little dripping after urination to having total inability to control any urine flow. In my personal experience of having just a little dripping, pads worked well. I found that I needed to use them for almost three years after surgery. As time went on I was able to gain more control and so I was able to alter the thickness of the pad. Eventually I stopped needing to use pads. Using pads was no big deal. It was easy, nobody had any idea that I needed them and in the situation where I had sudden urges (i.e. key syndrome – when I put my key into the front door I often developed sudden, uncontrollable urges) the pad helped until I could make my way to the toilet.

Those of us who do not recover urine control are forced to use “adult diapers,” or as the industry refers to them “absorbent underwear.” There should be no embarrassment in purchasing them, but unfortunately, many of us do experience some embarrassment at the checkout counter. Sorry, I have no suggestion on how to deal with this embarrassment. All I can say is that the adult incontinence market currently runs around $1.2 billion annually in North America, so you are not alone.

The small glimmer of positive news lies within the history of the development of the design of the absorbent underwear. In the 1980s Kimberly-Clark’s answer to the inconstancy issue was a product branded “Depend” which was always an all white item that only resembled an adult diaper. In the 1990s they started to market what they called “unisex underwear”. They were pretty much the same, simply a no frills adult diapers.

According to industry sources, Kimberly-Clark is planning to market a new version of their “absorbent adult underwear.” The new product line, which is supposed to be gender specific, is scheduled to be available at the retail level this spring. The men’s versions will have a blue waistband (maybe for prostate cancer?) and come with narrower leg openings than for the female version. Perhaps this will solve one of the more common complaints that many men voice about the current version of adult absorbent underwear, which is that the used stuffing tends to fall out through the leg openings.

According to the American Urological Association, other than prostate cancer treatments, incontinence can be caused by such things as infections, pelvic muscle weakness, as well as other diseases and side effects from some medications. Symptoms form many causes, including prostate cancer treatment, can often be improved with fluid management, bladder training and pelvic exercises. Medication and surgery may also work in some cases.

Incontinence should not be considered a normal part of aging,” says Tomas Griebling, Vice Chairman of the Department of Urology and associate professor at the Landon Center on Aging at the University of Kansas. He points out that “Not everyone becomes incontinent. We see many frail elderly patients who don’t have bladder problems.”

If you do have inconstancy issues speak with your doctor to be sure it comes from the prostate cancer treatments and not some other underlying condition. No matter what the cause, there are potential treatments available to help you relief the problem. Don’t forget to ask about these treatments.

Joel T Nowak MA, MSW