Incontinence affects many people in Australia

An estimated 316,500 people experienced severe incontinence as it is defined in the 2009 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (ABS 2009a; ABS 2009b).  The corresponding number in 2003 was 284,500, but given the sample sizes in the source data, there is not a significant difference between these two reference years. The majority of people with severe incontinence in 2009 were female (209,000 or 66%).

In 2009, the number of people who always needed help or supervision with their bladder or bowel control was 144,400. About 96,100 people with disability aged 10 and over living in households (2.7% of the total) and 99,700 people living in cared accommodation (63.2%) used continence aids, irrespective of their level of incontinence.

Incontinence affects an individual's ability to participate in everyday activities

Needing assistance with bladder or bowel control will affect an individual's life in more ways than one. The labour force participation rate for people aged 15-64 who always or sometimes needed assistance with bladder or bowel control was 20.4%. This was substantially lower than those who had difficulty with bladder or bowel control but needed no assistance (42.3%) and those who had no difficulty at all (56.8%). Of people aged 15 and over, living in households, with severe incontinence, 87,100 reported they could not go out as often as they would like, compared with 74,400 who reported they could go out as often as they would like-this difference was not statistically significant.

Primary carers who manage incontinence have lower wellbeing

In 2009, 72,900 people identified themselves as a primary carer who helped manage another person's incontinence. The majority of these primary carers (73.0%) reported spending 40 hours or more each week actively caring or supervising. Also, more primary carers who usually assisted with managing bladder or bowel control reported a change in their physical or emotional wellbeing (49.6%), weariness and lacking energy (45.0%) or worry or depression (39.5%) due to their caring role, compared with carers who did not assist with managing another person's incontinence (30.4%, 30.2% and 28.7% respectively). The higher care needs of people with incontinence and the greater effect on primary carers may be directly due to incontinence, or the differing types and severity of disability of people who have incontinence, or a combination of both.

The health care costs of incontinence are significant

For 2008-09, the health care expenditure estimated for incontinence was $201.6 million (not including residential aged care costs). In comparison, the equivalent expenditure for 2003 was $157.9 million (in 2008-09 dollars). The largest share of the expenditure in 2008-09 was for admitted patient hospital services, which accounted for $145.5 million, or 72% of the total health care expenditure that could be allocated to incontinence. The Continence Aids Assistance Scheme and out-of-hospital medical services were the next largest contributors to the cost, at $31.6 million and $17.7 million respectively. Additional costs not included in these estimates are personal costs, such as laundry, clothing and time.