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Fam Pract. 2004 Dec;21(6):689-96. Epub 2004 Nov 4.

What prevents older people from seeking treatment for urinary incontinence? A qualitative exploration of barriers to the use of community continence services.

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  • 1Faculty of Health and Social Care, University of the West of England, Bath, UK. Susan.Horrocks@uwe.ac.uk



Urinary incontinence is a significant health problem for older people. Many people with incontinence do not seek services. Simple and effective treatments exist in primary care.


Our aim was to explore reasons why older people living in the community do not present for help with problems of urinary incontinence and to identify ways in which they may be assisted to access continence services.


In-depth interviews lasting an average of 1 h were conducted with 20 people aged over 65 years living in the community, purposively selected from a sample of patients who volunteered to be interviewed.


Older people described ageing as a natural, degenerative process and had reduced health expectations. Urinary incontinence was commonly viewed as an inevitable aspect of ageing and, as such, something to be accepted and managed independently. Shame and embarrassment combined with generational differences in attitudes to disclosure about personal matters also prevented people from seeking advice. Relatively successful strategies to manage incontinence enabled people to contain their symptoms, although this was at a social, psychological and, in some cases, health cost. Older people in this sample had considerable co-morbidity, in many cases resulting in mobility problems. Despite regular contact with primary care professionals, they had seldom disclosed their urinary incontinence.


A combination of personal attitudes and practical barriers prevent older people from seeking help for urinary incontinence. It is possible that older people would be more likely to seek help if asked specifically about urinary leakage by primary health care professionals.

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