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Stigmatizing A "normal" Condition: Urinary Incontinence In Late Life.

L. S. Mitteness, J. Barker
Published 1995 · Medicine

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The geriatric medical literature presents a perspective on urinary incontinence in the elderly that is sharply divergent from the realities of medical and lay responses to incontinence. This contrast raises questions about the cultural significance of urinary incontinence. The geriatric literature reveals a consensus that urinary incontinence, a major health problem among the elderly, is treatable and frequently reversible. The elderly and their health care providers, however, not only see incontinence as an inevitable, irreversible, and normal part of growing old but also consider it a sign of incompetence. This linkage of incontinence with incompetence forces elderly people to adopt several strategies for managing their incontinence so as not to compromise their competence in the eyes of others. Incontinence is a cultural symbol for the increasing dependencies of old age, dependencies that are much feared and resented in U.S. society, where tremendous emphasis is placed on independence even into advanced old age.
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