Saturday, February 12, 2011

“Diapers” No More

Loss of bladder or bowel control (incontinence) is a medical condition that often comes with shame, embarrassment and sometimes denial. The stigma attached to this condition often makes it difficult for people to seek the help needed, possibly putting them into a more embarrassing situation (such as having unprotected accidents in public, smelling of urine or feces, or isolating themselves).  Part of this problem has to do with the fact that "babies wear diapers", and we continue to use the word “diapers” for adult products.

If you live long enough, there is a chance that you may need to wear a continence management product that keeps you dry and dignified.  Statistics show that 1 in 5 older adults experience problems with bladder and/or bowel control.  Some medical conditions can be treated with surgery, medications or exercises (like Kegels).  Some conditions need to be managed with products.

The term “diaper” is used to refer to absorbent products that are used for babies and children that are not able to control their urine flow and/or bowels. This is a developmental issue that eventually the child will grow out of.   When adults have problems with their bladder or bowels, it is usually due to a medical problem or a problem with their cognition.  Although children and adults use a similar type of product, it’s important to change the language when referring to adults.

What I want to bring to your attention here is that although many people who are older still recognize and use the term “diapers”, there is a cultural shift that is discouraging this word, as it can be offensive to some.  The following terms are more acceptable and encouraged.

Instead of using the word "diapers", considering the following alternatives:

  • Briefs
  • Incontinent pads (also used in the UK)
  • Incontinence products
  • Adult incontinent products
  • Absorbent products
  • Disposable products
  • Protective undergarments
  • Disposable incontinent pads
  • Underwear (for those who are cognitively impaired)

Sometimes it’s helpful to use one of the above words, with “adult diaper” as a qualifier if the person does not quite understand what you are talking about.  The word “incontinence” is only understood by half of the population.  It’s helpful to let the person know that we don’t use the term “diaper” for adults anymore.  Adults are not big babies.  We want to provide them with the respect and dignity they deserve. 

When I asked the company that sells DEPEND absorbent products what language they use and find acceptable, they replied with:
          “…we try to refer to all our products by their name. 
          Or we may use the terms ‘pull on’ vs. ‘open at the

Let’s all do our part in ensuring dignity, respect and appropriate language when talking about products used for adults.  After all, those with medical conditions deserve respect, and avoiding embarrassment with such a sensitive topic is the least we can do.

- Angela Gentile

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