Panel: One-quarter of adults to suffer incontinence

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Up to 25% of adults will experience incontinence at some point in their life, but fewer than half of those affected will report their symptoms to a doctor, according to a government panel. More than half of the nursing home population suffers from some form of incontinence, government figures show.

Incontinence in seniors with dementia is often a major factor in placing them in a care facility, panelists said Wednesday while releasing their report. They added that many instances of incontinence in non-dementia patients are the result of understaffing: Some seniors simply cannot get to the bathroom in time.

Urinary incontinence is the most common type, affecting over 20 million women and 6 million men, twice as many people as previously thought, according to the experts. Because of the stigma of fecal incontinence, it is not as widely studied. Panelists estimated that 5% of the general public and up to 39% of nursing home residents will experience fecal incontinence. The risk of incontinence rises with weight and with age, and women are at a greater risk of being affected.

The National Institutes of Health convened the panel.