Updated: Oct 16, 2018
If you take a quick look on the Internet for absorbent incontinence products you will usually find three major types of products, pads, disposable underwear (pull-ups), and briefs (tab style or tape style) often known as the dreaded word “Diaper”. All three types of incontinence products have a valid use, usually for very specific types of incontinence or levels of incontinence. If you dig a bit deeper and look into support forums and discussions on incontinence you will start to see a pattern with longtime users one style of products tends to rise to the top as the most used and preferred absorbent product and that is the feared “Diaper”. With few exceptions if you speak to these long-time users you will find that almost always when one develops incontinence the very last thing the person will want to use is the “Diaper” the almost instinctual negative connotation and stigma attached to the product style, means that most people do everything to avoid the use of this type of product. This thought process is normal for everyone but if the very thought of using a “diaper” is so strongly attached to negative thoughts, why do many people find the “diaper” style to the very best product for them in the end?
To dig deeper we need to talk about two things, why is there a negative connection to the word and product style “diaper” and why is the “diaper” very often one of the best product styles for managing incontinence for many people.
We, humans, love control, we want to control everything we can in our life to best of our ability we understand to a certain level we can't control everything in life but there are certain fundamental things that we believe we have 100% control of, and one is our body and its functions. After toilet training, as humans, we have strong control of how our body works and while there are needs that must be taken care of for the most part we can dictate to our body when that need will be met. This is until something goes wrong and our body abandons us and we can no longer trust our body to obey our demands.
There are two very distinct segments of every human life that we tend to consider when one has less or no control, one is our infancy were we have no control over anything from the food we eat to the clothes we wear and certainly not our bodily functions, the other is late in life when most people have the often wrong but common thought that with aging comes the inevitable loss of control of the same things. Nobody wants to lose this control but many believe the inevitably of such things. When we talk about something we don’t like we tend to make jokes about it to “lighten the mood” but underneath the joke is the very strong fear and belief that it WILL happen to us. This is where the “Diaper Stigma” begins. Losing control of the bladder or bowels can happen to anyone at any age and is extremely hard to cope with, losing faith in your body and the fear that others will mock or think less of you is normal, we all joke about needing diapers in our “old age” but now that we need them it is a different thought. Thinking about our co-workers, bosses, loved ones and friends finding out is frightening, so a vast majority of people living with the symptom of incontinence will often use products that are insufficient for their incontinence needs which very often ends in a disaster, these disasters usually have major impacts on the mental well being of the person and they will suffer from deep depression just the thought of needing to use a “diaper” can deepen this depression. BUT, it CAN be better! Needing “diapers” does not mean you are less than or can't contribute and live out a happy healthy life! Your friends and loved ones will still love you! You are not alone!
When we think about a diaper, for the most part, we all think about the “traditional” hourglass-shaped product with an absorbent core and a waterproof back-sheet usually wrapped around the waist and attached to itself with adhesive tapes, hook and loop fasteners and for the really traditional cloth products, safety pins. This design can be dated back as far as the 1500’s but the products we most recognize now were devolved in the 1930’s but did not make its real public debut until 1961 with the release of Pampers disposable diapers for babies. Sadly disposable products for adults lagged behind the products for children for many decades.
What key feature makes this design so popular?
The main feature of this type of product is its basic shape.
The way this product is cut and designed allows this product to be easily placed and removed by a caregiver or an abled user without the need to remove and replace the majority of clothing.
An even more important feature in this design is it allows for the very customizable fit it can achieve for the vast variety of different body shapes. In our experience and testing in the lab, a good fit can allow this type of product to “contain” more fluid (and solids) than the absorbent padding of the product can actually absorb and lock in!
All diapers are not the same while they all share in the original shape and design that makes this style of products so versatile for managing many types of incontinence other features will dictate how well each product will ultimately work. The features listed below are not solely found in the diaper style, but combined with the basic design really make the diaper style work best for many people.
The basic shape of a diaper style of products allows them to contain fluid and solids well but for the product work properly it must be able to absorb and lock that fluid and solids in so it does not escape the containment. Modern disposable products rely on two main ingredients to make this possible. Cellulose fibers and Super Absorbent Polymers or SAP. The fibers act as straws and soak up and disperse the fluid throughout the absorbent pad or core, the SAP then reacts to the fluid and creates chains of polymers that lock the fluid from moving, creating a gel-like substance that help lock the fluid in the core. The balance of these two products will determine how well the diaper will function, to little fiber and the fluid leaks out because the SAP takes time to create the polymer chains locking in the fluid and to little SAP in a product means the fluid can be easily dispersed and quickly absorbed but can be easily pressed out because there is nothing locking the fluid in the core.
To help determine what may work for you, if you have stress or overflow incontinence or a reduced flow rate products with less fiber (usually the thinner products) will work well for you as the fluid has time to be easily locked in by the SAP as there is usually not a large amount of fluid needed to be quickly absorbed by the fibers. Alternatively for those with Urge or complete incontinence you should be looking for the thicker products with more fiber material as the product will need to absorb more fluid much more quickly allowing the fluid to disperse within the product giving the SAP time to lock the fluid in the core.
One of the next most important features often found in a diaper style (and in our opinion SHOULD be found in) is the combination of elastic leg gathers and the standing leak guards. Some products may have one or the other but the combination of both Vastly improves the products overall performance! The leg gathers are the inside or curved section of the diaper or pull-up, the use of elastics in this section allows for the firm fit around the legs but also helps keep a good seal when the wearer moves. Products without the elastic leg gathers can work well but tend to leak during movement. The standing leak guards are found just inside of the leg gathers that run from the front for the brief or pull-up to the back of the product. When properly activated they should Stand up forming a fence or barrier that keeps fluids and solids close to the absorbent padding and prevent them from leaking out the leg openings. These also help keep fluids from running down the sides of the product when the wearer is lying down or on their side. We believe that the Standing leak guards and Leg Gathers are a requirement to better control bowel incontinence the ability to keep the solids from leaking out the leg openings a very necessary feature.
One of the last main features we tend to look for is the elastic waistband both front and back. This feature is not necessary for many body types to get a good fit but for some, they are an invaluable feature. For very active people and those that are sleeping or lying down the waistbands allow a better seal during any movement and when lying down help prevent fluids and solids from leaking out the back of the brief or product. This is another feature we believe should be on any product used to help contain bowel incontinence.
Diapers or briefs are not for everyone; vast majorities of people with incontinence do not need this type of product. But for those that do need this type of product, it is important to understand the use and need of this type of product does not make you less of a Man, Women, Mother or Father you are not less than you were before you needed them. Diapers as we may call them are nothing more than underwear! This underwear allows users like us to go to work, school, church and family outings this underwear allows us to watch a movie, watch a theatrical play or go to a ballgame. The underwear you use does NOT define who you are.
Find a product that works best for YOUR needs, one that YOU can trust, and in time the “Diaper Stigma” goes away and you can be free to, live a happy healthy life!