When did adult diapers become commercially available?

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Q: Q: Incontinence products seem to be everywhere these days. When did the first diapers specifically for adults become commercially available? RACHEL NEWSTEAD

A: If they are not everywhere yet, they will be soon. The bladder control business expects to waterproof more geezers than toddlers in this decade, as birth rates decline and the baby boom turns gray even more. Adult incontinence absorbed $ 1.8 billion in profits last year, and the market could grow nearly 50 percent by 2020. Good enough for a company that, it’s not so. long, could hardly get people to admit that they needed his product.

Whether caused by childbirth, strenuous exercise, traumatic injury, or just plain aging, incontinence is nothing new, and old medical tomes reveal that people have always looked for ways to keep them healthy. low dry. The Ebers papyrus, an Egyptian text from 1550 BC. AD, deals with the condition and methods of treatment: for men, external devices for collecting urine; for women, vaginal inserts to provide compression. Over the next three millennia, doctors mainly refined these concepts rather than improving them, unless you call the 18th century penis clamp an improvement.

During this time, babies went about their business as babies will, and by the late 1800s mass production of basic diaper elements – fabric squares and safety pins – was well underway. Cloth diapers would remain the norm for decades until World War II turned things upside down. Women working in home assembly lines began to use diaper services rather than washing their own, and with a fabric as short as the time was, various inventors contributed to the evolution of the disposable diaper such as that we know it now. Johnson & Johnson developed the first mass-market disposable diapers in the United States.

NASA learned the hard way that astronauts have the same biological needs as anyone else when Alan Shepherd got wet while waiting for Freedom 7 to launch in 1961. At this point, American astronauts were all male, which means that urine could be easily collected in a bag or via a sheath-tube-pocket arrangement, while a larger bag tied with adhesive took care of number two. However, once NASA started putting women into orbit, differences in female plumbing necessitated new equipment. The zipped trunks released for the first time were soon replaced by maximum absorbency clothing, treated with sodium polyacrylate to absorb the liquid, and these were found to be so effective that male astronauts began to wear them too. Space shuttle astronauts got three: one for launch, one for re-entry, and one because you never knew what might be going on in space.

But all of this is beautiful and good for astronauts – what about the poor old grandmother on earth? Commercial adult incontinence products were slow to arrive, in part because the embarrassing nature of the disease made marketing a difficult task. Procter & Gamble – maker of Pampers, long the undisputed champion of disposable baby items – launched Attends Incontinent Briefs in 1978, but these ended up being sold primarily to hospitals after print ads failed to make it through. distributed to many retail consumers.

The same year that Attends debuted, Kimberly-Clark began manufacturing Huggies, Pampers’ first real competitor. In 1983, they launched Depends and aggressively attacked the mass market that P&G had failed to attract. The trick: to overcome the stigma that still clung to the condition by using TV commercials – some portraying older people staying active, others leaning on the powerful spokesperson the company found in the actress June Allyson. The gamble turned out to be successful, and Kimberly-Clark now controls nearly half of the adult incontinence market.

No medical condition is too troublesome to talk about on the tube in 2016, and Kimberly-Clark’s recent campaigns have capitalized on this new franchise. The Depend line has also grown to include sleeker, more fashion-friendly incontinence underwear, now modeled by younger (and possibly continental) actors and athletes to show just how undetectable they are. There has never been a better time to be a style-conscious senior with an increasingly less cooperative bladder.

Send your questions to Cecil via straightdope.com or write to him c / o Chicago Reader, 350 N. Orleans, Chicago 60654.

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