Diapers for adults. An overview in a contemporary and historical perspective

This overview of knowledge is about nappies for adults in a contemporary, historical, economic and ecological perspective. The purpose of the overview is to show that there are many adults who need a nappy, and that there are many different types of nappies for adults, and to examine what is considered to be a good nappy, how to use mapping tools to find out which nappies are appropriate, and how to use nappies in a way that prevents wounds and infections, and to show that there are economic and ecological challenges linked to nappies.

Publisert 22. august 2023 | Sist oppdatert 25. mars 2024

The presented knowledge is mainly based on studies and on healthcare personnel’s experiences as presented in popular science texts, media reports and textbooks. The text is particularly aimed at nursing students and nursing staff, but it could also be useful and interesting for adults who use nappies and for their relatives.

Nappies are often associated with children, but Norwegian studies indicate that 26-38% of adult men and women have various forms of urinary incontinence (UI). About half as many men as women have UI. American studies indicate that 2,6% of those aged 20-69 have various degrees of faecal incontinence. The figure appears to be above 50% for those who live in Norwegian nursing homes. But the incontinence rates are uncertain, because many people feel ashamed of their incontinence and may try to hide it, even from the doctor. Many people do not seek help. It can be particularly embarrassing to describe urine leaks during orgasm and penetration. Those who do not have control over their urine or faeces may experience negative attitudes, including from healthcare personnel. Incontinent people can have low self-esteem, become depressed, isolate themselves and feel inferior.

For those looking for help, there are many nappy products to choose from. A good nappy should have great absorbency and absorb quickly, it should have a good fit and adhere well, and it should use skin-friendly material and be made in such a way that moisture is retained inside the nappy, which should feel dry against the skin. It is important that those who need a nappy have the opportunity to test different varieties, because they may be afraid that it will be visible beneath their clothes, afraid that the nappy will not conceal smells or sounds, afraid of leaks, and so on. In Norway the state covers the costs of adults’ nappies. It is important to change nappies that have become wet or soiled, as wet and soiled nappies can be uncomfortable to wear and can cause sores and infection. However, studies and media reports show that some patients have to wait for several hours before they get help to change their nappy. From an ecological perspective, it is also a challenge that nappies appear to make up 12% of global waste that cannot be broken down biologically.