Speaking up about male incontinence
Women are most affected by incontinence but as many as one in four men over the age of 40 also have some form of leakage issues. Since incontinence is rarely spoken about, and male incontinence even less so, sharing the stories of sufferers is important to break the silence surrounding the condition.
Jörgen Pihl, a 72-year-old man in Sweden, lives with incontinence as a result of a prostate cancer operation six years ago. Although past retirement age, he remains highly active, both in his own business and as a municipal councilor. Incontinence has meant a more carefully planned day-to-day life; always checking for the nearest toilet, watching how much he drinks and always carrying an extra pad.
But perhaps more than a physical and practical inconvenience, incontinence proved to be a mental challenge. For Pihl, it was a particularly hard blow to his identity. “I think your psychological attitude toward experiencing incontinence is very dependent on your background,” he says. “I’m an old commando and strongly marked by a male environment. That’s not made it any easier. At first I had great difficulty in accepting the situation and felt ashamed.”
I had great difficulty in accepting the situation and felt ashamed.
Until now, his incontinence has been a well-kept secret apart from his immediate family. The social stigma that surrounds incontinence has also meant Pihl has felt reluctant to visit the pharmacy to buy protection and so instead orders it from his incontinence nurse. And although active in many areas, he describes sometimes withdrawing from social life more or less unconsciously.
Throughout, Pihl says he has had good support from his wife and a friend in the same situation, and over time, the situation has become easier to accept and the feelings of shame are not as strong. “I hope to be able to contribute to a more open discussion about incontinence by sharing my story,” Jörgen says. “If I were to give advice to other sufferers, it would be to try to accept the situation and still make the best of it.”