A systematic review of psychometric evidence and expert opinion regarding the assessment of faecal incontinence in older community-dwelling adults

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This review had two objectives: (i) to determine what is required in an assessment of faecal incontinence issues for older community-dwelling adults; and (ii) to determine the psychometric tools most effective for assessment of faecal incontinence in older community-dwelling adults.

Inclusion criteria

For the review of psychometric tools, studies were included if they were concerned with people living in the community, included a significant proportion of the sample aged 65 years or over, and either examined psychometric properties of assessment tools or assessed sensitivity of assessment tools to non-surgical interventions available in the community setting. For the review of expert opinion, the search was limited to expert opinion provided by an expert in faecal incontinence that related to community-based assessment. Only articles published in English were eligible for inclusion and no limits were placed on publication dates.

Search strategy

An initial search of Medline and CINAHL databases identified terminology frequently used in the literature with regard to assessment of faecal incontinence. An extensive search was then undertaken using all identified key words and index terms. The third step involved a search of reference lists and bibliographies of all relevant articles.

Methodological quality

All identified studies that met the inclusion criteria were assessed for methodological validity in the case of studies considered for inclusion in the psychometric review. Validity of expert text was also assessed prior to it being included in the review.


The final search strategy identified approximately 7000 references. Full-text versions of 144 references were critically appraised for inclusion in the review. Of these, 25 sources were included in the review of expert opinion and 16 in the review of psychometric properties. In the review of expert opinion, 254 conclusions were extracted for synthesis. The 31 thematic categories were organised under five major themes: History-taking, bowel assessment, psychosocial aspects, physical examination and specialist referral. From the sources that survived critical appraisal, 52 conclusions relating to psychometric properties of assessment tools were derived. There was limited, if any, analysis of psychometric properties for the majority of assessment tools. The Wexner and Vaizey symptom severity scales demonstrated acceptable test–retest reliability and convergent validity. The Fecal Incontinence Quality of Life Scale (FIQLS) demonstrated reasonable reliability and good convergent and criterion-related validity. There was, however, some evidence questioning its discriminant validity.


This systematic review represents an important first stage in developing guidelines for assessment of faecal incontinence in community-dwelling older people. Assessment should be comprehensive in nature. Gaps in expert opinion are evident regarding issues such as assessment of cognitive decline and specialist referral. Continence advisors need to be appropriately trained in using and interpreting results from assessment tools and conducting physical examinations. Although studies in the review of psychometric properties suffer from limitations such as inadequate sample sizes, the Vaizey and Wexner scales would appear to be the tools of choice. The FIQLS is clearly the tool of choice at this stage for measuring faecal incontinence quality of life. Further validation of tests used in faecal incontinence assessments is required.

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