What To Know About Women’s Unique Aging Considerations
“Do not deprive me of my age. I have earned it.”
― May Sarton, Belgian-American poet, 1912-1995
If we’re lucky, we get old. Of course, people get old in different ways, but men and women also age differently. Here is a look at some of the unique challenges women face as they age, how they can address these challenges, and how their loved ones can help.
Among the top health considerations for women as they age are:
- Menopause. During menopause, the body’s production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone decreases. That usually leads to a range of physical and emotional symptoms, such as hot flashes, mood changes, and vaginal dryness.
- Bone health. Women are more prone to osteoporosis than men, especially after menopause. This is because estrogen plays a role in maintaining bone density, and a decline in estrogen can increase the risk of fractures and bone loss.
- Heart health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in many countries, and the risk of developing it increases with age. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can help reduce the risk.
These are just a few of the reasons women should have a checkup with their doctor annually, even if they are feeling well. Besides checking current health—through a physical exam, bloodwork, and other screenings—the doctor will ask for family health history. Menopause symptoms and the risk for osteoporosis are both strongly influenced by genetics. Heart health is somewhat influenced by genetics, but is also affected by lifestyle and environment.
Mental Health and Elder Abuse
Studies in numerous countries have shown that older women are more likely than older men to experience stress, depression and anxiety. The causes can include hormonal changes, caregiving responsibilities, and social isolation. Women may also have experienced gender-based discrimination or violence throughout their lives, which can affect mental health at any age.
Older women may also be more vulnerable to developing cognitive impairment, such as dementia. This is partly because women tend to live longer than men, and age is a significant risk factor for cognitive decline.
These and other factors mean older women are more susceptible to elder abuse than older men. The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.” It may take the form of “physical, sexual, psychological and emotional abuse; financial and material abuse; abandonment; neglect; and serious loss of dignity and respect.”
Around the world, women tend to be the default family caregivers, so they may brush aside their own needs. Women of all ages should care for their mental health just as they do their physical health—each has been shown to affect the other.
Older women are generally less financially secure than older men. There are several reasons for this, including:
- Pay gap. Women typically earn less than men over the course of their careers, which means they have less money to save for retirement.
- Career breaks. Women are more likely than men to take career breaks to care for children or other family members. This can result in lost wages, lower retirement savings, and smaller pensions or Social Security benefits.
- Longer life expectancy. Women tend to live longer than men, which means they need to make their retirement savings last longer.
- Caregiver responsibilities. Women are more likely to provide care for children or sick or elderly relatives, which can lead to reduced work hours, lost wages, and increased expenses.
Without financial security and stability in old age, women may be vulnerable to neglect or abuse. This is especially true if a married woman outlives her spouse. Women should be aware of these issues and take steps to plan and save for retirement throughout their lives and careers.
How To Support Women as They Age
Here are some ways loved ones can help and advocate for women as they age:
- Encourage regular health screenings. Encourage your loved one to schedule routine checkups with her health care provider. Ask her if she would like you to accompany her.
- Address safety concerns. Keep an eye out for signs of abuse, and speak up if you suspect your loved one is in danger. If necessary, help her find a safe place to stay and connect her with resources to address the abuse.
- Stay connected. Isolation and loneliness are bad for all elders. Be in regular contact with your loved one, and provide or suggest opportunities for social interaction.
- Support her independence. While offering help is important, do what you can to support your loved one’s independence. Encourage her to continue participating in activities she enjoys and finding new hobbies. Help her adapt her home for safe living.
- Advocate for her needs. If your loved one needs help navigating the health care system, finding local resources, or communicating with these services, help her get what she needs.
Overall, supporting and advocating for women as they age requires patience, empathy, and a willingness to listen and respond to their needs. By being there for your loved one, you can help her maintain her health, safety and well-being.
Right at Home provides in-home care services such as help with shopping and meals, overseeing exercise, and providing hygiene assistance and transportation to doctor appointments. We also provide respite time for family caregivers so they have a chance to rest and recharge. Find your local Right at Home office and ask for a FREE in-home consultation.