80% of older people surveyed by Help the Aged said that they found it difficult to find a public toilet when they needed one. A further 78% of people said public toilets are not open when they need them. The charity is now calling on councils to stop the closure of public toilets, a major contributing factor for older people who feel isolated by their condition.
Being incontinent is second only to dementia as the reason why older people move into residential care. One in ten people over 65 has involuntary bladder contractions, with 15% who still live at home suffering with faecal incontinence. Despite this, little is understood about the condition or its impact on the quality of life of older people.
However, new qualitative research published by the Charity today, has uncovered that there is a considerable link between incontinence and social isolation among older people. The research highlights how embarrassment of the condition prevents many older people from seeking help from either professionals or family. One older woman told researchers that she could not bring herself to tell her husband she had faecal incontinence.
Pamela Holmes, healthy ageing policy manager at Help the Aged, said:
"It violates human rights and denies dignity when councils are closing more and more public toilets, despite the fact that there is already less than one public toilet for every 10,000 people in the UK - not taking into account visitors and tourists.
"We have the very British taboo of bodily functions, yet one in three of us will develop incontinence at some point in our lives. Although it is more common in older age, incontinence is not an inevitable part of ageing and we need much more research into the causes, prevention and treatment of it."
Key recommendations and calls from Help the Aged include:
- Local authorities must place more emphasis on the provision and upkeep of clean and accessible public toilets - a lifeline for older and disabled people, instead of closing them;
- Re-instatement of the regular national mapping exercise to ascertain where toilet provision is declining. This was undertaken by the Audit Commission and since it stopped in 2001, toilet provision has plummeted by 40 %.
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- Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) should ensure that everyone who needs incontinence pads has them free of charge from the NHS. At present, this isn't the case and many older people have to cut them in half to make them last longer;
- Better professional awareness among those working with older people about the impact of incontinence on people's lives;
- More awareness raising by primary health staff for older people who need information and advice about dealing with incontinence.