In older persons, incontinence is associated with multiple interacting factors, including chronic conditions such as diabetes and stroke, cognitive impairment, and mobility impairment.

Bladder incontinence may be caused by conditions such as age-related changes in the lower urinary tract, urinary tract infection, and conditions not directly related to the genitourinary system, such as diabetes, cancer, stroke, cognitive impairment, and mobility impairment.

Risk factors for bowel incontinence include chronic diarrhea, inadequate fiber and water intake and chronic constipation, diabetes, stroke, neurologic and psychiatric conditions, cognitive impairment, and mobility impairment. Use of certain medications and polypharmacy are also associated with incontinence.

The statistics below demonstrate the widespread nature of incontinence.   

Urinary incontinence 

  • Urinary incontinence affects up to 13% of Australian men and up to 37% of Australian women (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2006).
  • 65% of women and 30% of men sitting in a GP waiting room report some type of urinary incontinence, yet only 31% of these people report having sought help from a health professional (Byles & Chiarelli, 2003).
  • 70% of people with urinary leakage do not seek advice and treatment for their problem (Millard, 1998).
  • An Australian study found that over a three month period, 50% of women aged 45-59 years of age experienced some degree of mild, moderate or severe urinary incontinence (Millard, 1998). 
  • The prevalence of urge incontinence, which is strongly associated with prostate disease, is fairly low in younger males and increases to 30% for those aged 70-84 and 50% for those 85 years and over (Australian Instiute of Health and Welfare, 2006).

Faecal incontinence

  • Faecal incontinence affects up to 20% of Australian men and up to 12.9% of Australian women (Australian Instiute of Health and Welfare, 2006).
  • Faecal incontinence is one of the three major causes (along with decreased mobility and dementia) for admittance to a residential aged care facility (Norton et al 2002).


  • Around 77% of nursing home residents in Australia are affected by incontinence (Steel & Fonda 1995).
  • 40-60% of people in nursing homes will wet the bed tonight (Steel & Fonda 1995).


The Deloitte Access Economics report The economic impact of incontinence in Australia (920KB) explores the current prevalence and economic impact of incontinence in Australia, and provides an outline of the future projected growth of this burden.



#1 Jennifer G. 2019-07-03 19:45
Care/treatment of incontinence varies depending on choices made by Providers. I have been in 2 aged care facilites in the last 3 months. The first chose well-fitting, snug pull-ups with an additional liner. Tena brand. They worked well for me. No underwear (clothing) was needed. I 5 years, I never had a "wet everything" episode as described below.

The facility I am in now required me to buy multiple pairs of cotton briefs because they refused to buy what worked for me - Tena , and supplied - not my choice at all - long, skinny pads with a smaller pad liner, to fit inside the cotton briefs. Abri-San brand. The pads slip and move. They can be so much out of place that if my bladder lets go, urine spills out into clothes or the seat of whatever I am sitting on. I am physically disabled, need both hands to move about the room unless I am in my electric mobility chair. I have urgency incontinence, and have seconds to get to a toilet before my bladder just lets go. About once a week here I empty my bladder down my slacks, my compression socks and into my shoes because the skinny pads slip out of place, and I need 4 hands to stand safely in order to straighten pads. Is this Elder Abuse? If so, what are my options?