More Than Astronaut Diapers: Incontinence in the Media

Jasmine Schmidt Health Guide
  • Incontinence is rarely a topic that the media jumps at, so since it seems to be making a rare appearance in headlines lately, I’m going to postpone my previously-scheduled blog (part III of enhancing the patient-doctor relationship), to instead write about the recent surge of newsworthy events related to incontinence.

    I’m speaking mainly of two separate, isolated events. You may know the first occurrence I’m referring to as the “astronaut’s love triangle.” According to MSNBC, “[Lisa] Nowak, a married U.S. astronaut was accused of trying to kidnap and kill a rival for the affections of a fellow astronaut after a bizarre 950-mile drive wearing diapers to confront the woman.” What is truly astonishing to me about this story is the way that media has truly honed in on the diaper-wearing aspect.
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    I haven’t sorted out within my own mind if I feel that the media’s attention to this diaper-wearing incident is good, bad, or indifferent, but at this point I certainly find it curious. Especially so given the fact that the Simon Foundation for Continence got it’s start, in part, when it’s founder was searching for information (for her own incontinence) about the technology used by NASA for liquid management in almost zero-gravity situations.

    In fact, twenty-four years later, the incontinence arena is still learning from astronauts as we prepare for the Innovating for Continence Conference: a program designed to stimulate fresh thinking in the engineering field regarding continence management and treatment. One of the sessions on the agenda: Incontinence – The View from Space by Professor Ian A. Sutherland BSc, PhD, FIMechE, FIPEM, who will draw upon his experiences working with NASA and the European Space Agency to review lessons from space which may be applied to the equally challenging liquid handling problems that need to be addressed to create effective products for managing incontinence.

    The second media blitz regarding incontinence was really more of a small blip on the radar screen, which I might have missed altogether had I not been at home sick this week watching TV. On the Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Mehmet Oz addressed a woman’s question regarding stress urinary incontinence. Dr. Oz addressed her question with a short explanation of the muscles that make up the pelvic floor, and a recommendation of Kegel exercises. This media incident also left me perplexed and unsure if I should jump for joy that incontinence was addressed as an important health issue, or feel disappointed that it was so quickly glossed over.

    However conflicted I may be about the recent exposure to incontinence and absorbent products in our nation’s media, I always (try) to see every occasion as an opportunity. It’s hard to argue that media is an important tool for furthering any cause, so why not use it to further the cause of incontinence care, education, and research?

    I invite you to join me in writing to those who cover topics related to incontinence and encouraging them to use their power to improve the lives of the millions of people living with incontinence. Write to those who have told you about the “diaper-wearing astronaut” and offer to speak to them about what it is like to use absorbent products to manage a true medical problem. Write to the Oprah show and thank them for covering incontinence, encouraging greater coverage in the future – and write to other talk-shows as well to let them know that you’d like to see some discussion of this topic.

  • Almost every medical condition affecting over 30 million Americans has a celebrity spokesperson. Incontinence does not – incontinence has you and me. Use your voice to let our media sources know that we want to see information and education about this vital topic.
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Published On: February 20, 2007