Female incontinence: It's no laughing matter

Thursday, January 27, 2011

PHILADELPHIA - Take a gander at this data regarding female incontinence, courtesy of a new market survey by SCA, which makes Tena bladder protection products: Only 16% of women 45 and older are likely to discuss incontinence with their doctors. Many are just too embarrassed to bring it up. If a woman feels that incontinence is a normal part of aging, she's unlikely to seek help. What's more, women aren't the only ones shy about discussing this subject. It's also one of the top two topics least addressed by doctors. (The other: low sex drive.) So what gives? Why all the stigma and silence around female incontinence? To find out, HME News recently consulted Dan Lafferty, director of home care marketing for Tena.

HME: What is the stigma and how will it be broken?

Lafferty: The stigma is that incontinence affects only elderly people and that it is in some way humorous. Anyone who has experienced that condition can tell you that isn't true. Also, people assume that bladder weakness is just a normal part of aging and that it is something that just has to be dealt with, which also isn't true. Incontinence can be managed and even cured. Since there is such a silence around incontinence, however, no one is talking about the truth about the condition, and the stigmas persist.

HME: How fast is the incontinence market growing? With aging baby boomers, it seems like more and more women will need these products.

Lafferty: The retail sales of adult incontinence products were worth around $5 billion globally in 2010. The annual growth is projected at 6% by 2014, which is high compared to other tissue and hygiene sectors. The aging population will have a tremendous impact on the industry. There are 79 million baby boomers currently living in the United States (over half of whom are women), and the first of their generation turned 65 on Jan. 1, 2011. As the population ages, we will see more women who need these products as they experience bladder weakness brought on by aging or other age-related conditions.

HME: What is Tena doing to create awareness and bust the stigma?

Lafferty: We use an integrated marketing communication program that includes print, broadcast and online advertising, as well as marketing partnerships. (For example), we have forged a partnership with the Red Hat Society--a leading 50-plus social group for women with a large chapter network--for a grassroots campaign.

HME: Is there a business opportunity here for HME providers?

Lafferty: The business opportunity here is similar to many other business opportunities, and that would be keeping customers happy. When people wear an incontinence product that fits right, isn't bulky and keeps their skin dry, they will have more freedom, mobility and just a better quality of life.

HME: What kind of sensitivity is required to sell these products?

Lafferty: It's important to be on the same side as your customer when selling these products. It is important for women to understand that we know about the reality of incontinence--we aren't laughing at the condition but we aren't trying to hide it either. We can offer comfortable, stylish solutions to help women live their best lives.