Incontinence Products: What's in a Name?

by Jasmine Schmidt Patient Expert

There's been a lot of discussion lately around what to call those... ahem... products... that are so often used to help manage incontinence. While I've addressed this issue a couple of times in response to individual questions, I thought I'd "officially" throw in my two cents. So here it is, for what it's worth...

I generally use the term "absorbent products" because I feel that adequately describes what these products are. I also feel that this term is generally pretty politically correct and avoids adding to the stigma of incontinence. However, lately I've started following that phrase with "adult diapers", often in parenthesis. The reason I do this is mainly for online search functionality, because people often look-up the term "adult diaper" or "diaper" when looking for help. Using the same term makes it easier for those people to find my blog.

It seems that the term "diaper", in particular, has struck quite a nerve with some individuals ... and understandably so. Many people (in fact, I dare say most people) associate diapers with babies. Adults who are using products to manage a medical condition (incontinence) don't want to be compared to babies in any way, shape, or form. I looked up the definition of the word "diaper" fully intending to point out that the word is used to explain a product - not who uses it. However, I was shocked to learn that almost every definition I found actually does specify that a diaper is an absorbent product worn by a baby. Many of these definitions went on to say that the product is also used by individuals with incontinence, but some didn't.

While I don't feel personally offended if someone uses the term "adult diaper", I can certainly understand why some people would. A short review of history teaches us that changes in language can reflect (or perhaps encourage?) a shift in culture. For example, flight attendants used to be known as "stewardesses", and office assistants were commonly called "office girls". With that in mind, I feel that it's an important step towards battling stigma to use terms that help the public to perceive incontinence as a medical condition that should be treated with dignity and respect, just as you would with any other disability.

Again, that's really just my two cents ... you are of course entitled to your own opinion, and I would be delighted to read about and learn from it.

Jasmine Schmidt
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Jasmine Schmidt

Jasmine wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Incontinence.