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Stigmatizing a "Normal" Condition: Urinary Incontinence in Late Life

Medical Anthropology Quarterly

Author: Mitteness, L. S., Barker, J. C.
Type: Journal Article
Year: 1995


The geriatric medical literature presents a perspective on urinary incontinence in the elderly that is sharply divergent from the realities of medical & lay responses to the problem. This contrast raises questions about the cultural significance of incontinence. The problem is treatable & frequently reversible, but while the elderly & their health care providers see incontinence as an inevitable, & normal part of growing old, they also consider it an irreversible sign of incompetence. This linkage of incontinence with incompetence forces elderly people to adopt strategies that do not compromise their competence in the eyes of others. Incontinence is a cultural symbol for the increasing dependencies of old age, dependencies that are much feared & resented in U.S. society, where tremendous emphasis is placed on independence even into advanced old age.

Further Details

Pages: 188-210
Volume: 9
Issue: 2
Accession Number: 23.5.03
Keywords: North America, older
Reads: 176