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Severe incontinence affects over 315,000 people in Australia, and the associated care and costs can be substantial, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

'Severe incontinence' means always or sometimes needing help with managing bladder or bowel control and/or using continence aids.

The report, Incontinence in Australia: prevalence, experience and cost, uses 2009 data and  shows that two thirds of people experiencing incontinence are female (66%).

A smaller, but still substantial number of about 144,000 people always needed help or supervision with their bladder or bowel control.

'Incontinence affects people's ability to take part in education, employment and social situations,' said AIHW spokesperson Brent Diverty.

'In 2009, only one in five people aged 15-64 who always or sometimes needed assistance with bladder or bowel control were working or looking for work.'

'This was substantially lower than for those who had difficulty with bladder or bowel control but needed no assistance (42%) and those who had no difficulty at all (57%).'

There were 72,900 primary carers in 2009 who helped with another person's incontinence, along with other needs for support and assistance. Three quarters of these carers (73%) spent 40 or more hours a week actively caring or supervising, and the toll on their wellbeing was more than for carers whose support and assistance did not include help with incontinence.

'For example, 50% of primary carers helping with managing bladder or bowel control said they had a change in their physical or emotional wellbeing. Around 45% reported weariness and lacking energy, and 40% reported worry or depression. This compares with less than a third for each of these factors, for carers whose support and assistance did not include help with managing incontinence,' Mr Diverty said.

'The higher needs of people with incontinence and the greater impact on primary carers may be directly due to incontinence, or the different types and severity of disability of people who have incontinence, or both,' Mr Diverty said.

In 2008-09, health care spending for incontinence was about $202 million (not including residential aged care costs).

The largest share of this spending ($146 million, or 72%) in 2008-09 was for admitted patient hospital services. The Continence Aids Assistant Scheme and out-of-hospital medical services cost $32 million and $18 million respectively.

A more detailed report on incontinence will be released in 2013.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 11 December 2012

Further information: Mr Brent Diverty, AIHW, tel. (02) 6249 5096, mob. 0407 915 851

Full report: Incontinence in Australia: prevalence, experience and cost