Incontinence and the Science of Adult Diaper Shopping


In one 2011 episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kris Jenner was the object of her daughters’ practical joke about her incontinence. To add insult to injury, daughter Khloe stalled Kris from getting up from their booth in the restaurant and running to the rest room. All these in the guise of getting Kris to see a doctor.

I remember thinking how cruel the joke was (Call me a spoil sport but I didn’t get why the daughter could make fun of the mother in that way) and why Kris—she was in her late fifties at that time—was already having minor bladder issues at such an age.

As I found out later, urinary incontinence can happen anytime for a gamut of reasons, both temporary and permanent, particularly among women.

Which got me around to thinking about diapers, the adult variant.


The Foibles of Adult Diaper Shopping

The thing with adult diapers is that it’s like shopping for shoes or an engagement ring. It’s not just the style you’re after. It’s the fit, too. And yeah, it should feel right.

Adult diapers for spry individuals and elders.


Shopping for diapers for an adult is nowhere similar to looking for the right brand of nappies for babies. Nope, not at all. Those young mamas generally decide based on price and if the diapers can keep their babies quiet the whole night.

With adult diapers, the decision-making process can be pretty complicated. See, unlike babies who only wail when they feel discomfort with their nappies, adult users have much more sophisticated standards.

Let me break them down here.

  • The cup runs deep: It’s all about Absorbency. If you think that small, medium, and large sizing are all only about the user’s size, that’s just half of the story. See, not all adult diapers are created equal, label wise. A Large for brand A isn’t yet the same Large of brand B.


There’s a science behind all these. It is partly about absorbency.

If we talk absorbency, we can’t help but discuss capacity. The super diapers out there are reported to have up to 95 ounces (or 2809 mL) of usable (urine) capacity.

To appreciate this number, let’s compare it with a normal person’s output in a day. Let’s assume that a person normally excretes 60ML/hour: The diaper could have collected 1440 mL without changing for 24 hours. (Of course, this is just an estimate of the normal output capacity because in reality, how much a person releases depends on his weight.)

That’s still an incredible 24 hours, give or take a few hours!

On hindsight, however, I wonder who would want to make a habit of waiting that long before changing?

People who are wheelchair-bound will tell you that it isn’t easy to have a nappy change in some public rest room.

incontinence and adult diaper shopping

Moreover, if they are due, say, to take a long-haul flight, these ultra-absorbent types would definitely come in handy. This would call though for equally super-reliable grip tabs or tapes to hold all that weight.

For users who are ambulatory, the issue can be the weight of all that liquid collected, particularly if one has a petite build. Can I image myself tugging all that (acidic) urine every single day? No, I can’t. It’s going to be a challenge not to waddle with all that weight.

The point here is that a product that has such a superior absorbency isn’t for everybody.

  • The sound of silence. Babies do not care if their diapers make little rustling sounds. All they care is that they’re well fed, they don’t turn colic, and their wet underpants aren’t disturbing their sleep.

But for adults, those rustle under the skirt (or pants) can be pretty embarrassing. Let’s just say those telltale sounds can completely cancel out the social badge of that Louis Vuitton bag hanging on your shoulders.

But this is where the irony lies. That sound is brought by the diaper’s plastic shell rubbing against our clothing’s fabric. The plastic outer shell is a necessary evil if the aim is to enhance the diaper’s protection against leakage.

While there are brands whose products now have a soft cloth-like outer covering but are waterproof and even tagged as “breathable”, these too have their cons, as you’ll learn later below.


  • Being discreet when you can help it. Absorbency has a direct correlation to the size—okay, let’s call a spade a spade—or bulkiness of a diaper. Diapers are notorious among the aesthetics-conscious for the creating semblance of “uni-butts”. That aside, most wearers’ biggest fear is suddenly finding their diapers easing themselves toward their knees.

But then, not everyone needs the biggest capacity. The right type of diaper depends on one’s needs. For people who suffer from severe incontinence, the traditional adult diaper (i.e., the disposable ones with tapes or Velcro) may be ideal.

For those who can manage to reach the toilet to pass, the pull-on (or pull-up) type would be the one for them. These come in either the overnight-use or the daytime versions. Most do not have the capacity of the most absorbent traditional type brands and are less bulky. They just need to be snug enough to prevent leaks.

For minor or infrequent leaks, the bladder control pads might do. These look like the menstrual pads but can absorb urine better than the latter. And oh, least I forget, bladder control pads have gender-specific designs, too. (If you want to know more about the three types, just click on the Amazon ads on this post to read about the manufacturers’ details.)


  • The smell of freshness. A diaper’s absorbency may also be related to its ability to control odors. Some users swear by the ability of diapers that are made of superabsorbent polymers to lessen foul odor. There are also products with chemicals that neutralize odors.

The thing with odor, though, is that we cannot rely solely on the diaper to do all the heavy lifting. Urine odor may be minimized by the user himself through enough water intake, dietary changes (e.g., asparagus gives urine a foul smell), and good hygiene.

  • What irritates you definitely bothers you. The disadvantage of extended wear diapers though is that it can leave  users with sensitive skin open to skin rashes or even infection. Compared to products with plastic covers, those that have shells made of cloth have more ventilation.

Some diapers advertise their capability to wick the moisture away from the users’ skin, thus minimizing skin rashes. This is made possible by either the diaper’s material or design or both.

  • Odds and ends. Traditional adult diapers have tape tabs. Lesser-known brands have tabs that when unfastened can tear a hole on the diapers’ shell. This is a bummer, as this would mean either having to reinforce the tape back with a surgical tape (or any tape you have at home) to hold the diaper in place, or to completely replace the whole underpants.

To eliminate guesswork in the art of diaper changing—i.e. when to know the perfect time to unfasten the tabs—some manufacturers have come up what I call the fuzzy intelligence of diapers: The wetness indicators. You’ll know when to change underpants when that indicator line disappears.

So I wish that the next time some—yeah, relatives included—make people with incontinence the butt of their joke, they ought to first remember that such is an unnecessary inconvenience. I would think that real people just approach their loved ones and proceed to have quiet and meaningful discussions about why it’s important to see a doctor. Minus the drama that way—unless they’re reality TV stars, that is.

– Suzy T. aka GratefulMe

Comments (1)
  1. maddy December 14, 2017

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