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  • Writer's pictureChristian Companions

Unique Healthcare Challenges Faced by Senior Citizen Women




As women’s retirement age approaches, unique challenges can arise that are distinct from those experienced by men. For senior women and elderly women, the journey into retirement often involves navigating a complex landscape of health concerns, financial insecurity, and societal biases. 


It’s important to be proactive as possible with these obstacles so as to ensure a fulfilling and empowered transition into this new stage of life.


In this article, we’ll explore some of the trials confronting women at retirement age, learn about the health challenges specific to senior women, and come to understand the financial disparities exacerbated by gender inequalities, and discrimination women face in healthcare settings. Moreover, we’ll provide strategies and resources to help elderly women overcome these hurdles and age gracefully with confidence and resilience.



Common Health Problems Affecting Senior Women: An In-Depth Look


As they age, senior women face unique health challenges that can significantly impact their quality of life. Senior women are at a greater risk than men for a variety of chronic conditions, including heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, depression, and arthritis. 


This increased risk can be attributed to a combination of biological, social, and lifestyle factors. Understanding these risks is essential for developing effective caregiving strategies and improving the quality of life for aging women.


Heart Disease


Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women; however, women often experience different symptoms than men and may be underdiagnosed or undertreated. Post-menopausal women, in particular, face a higher risk due to the decline in estrogen levels, which is believed to have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system.





Osteoporosis


Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by weak and brittle bones, which significantly increases the risk of fractures. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about one in three women aged 75 through 85 has osteoporosis . This condition is more prevalent in women due to lower peak bone mass and the accelerated bone loss that occurs after menopause. Fractures, particularly hip fractures, can lead to severe functional impairments and a decrease in the quality of life.





Cancer


Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, and age is a major risk factor. Statistics indicate that half of all newly diagnosed breast cancer cases occur in women over the age of 60 . Early detection and treatment are crucial, yet older women may face barriers to accessing adequate healthcare, including screenings and follow-up care.


Stroke


Women are at a higher risk of stroke, particularly in the later stages of life. Factors contributing to this increased risk include higher rates of hypertension, atrial fibrillation, and diabetes in older women. Additionally, women are more likely to experience worse outcomes and longer recovery times post-stroke compared to men.


Diabetes


The prevalence of diabetes increases with age, and older women are particularly vulnerable. The condition can lead to severe complications such as cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, and nerve damage. Managing diabetes in elderly women can be challenging due to the presence of multiple comorbidities and the potential for hypoglycemia.


Alzheimer's Disease


Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia disproportionately affect women. Nearly two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer's are women . This disparity may be partially due to women generally living longer than men, but genetic and hormonal factors also play significant roles. Alzheimer's disease severely impacts cognitive function, independence, and quality of life.


Depression


Depression is another condition more common in senior women than men.

Factors

such as widowhood, social isolation, chronic illnesses, and the physical decline associated with aging contribute to higher rates of depression. Mental health is a critical component of overall well-being, and untreated depression can lead to a deterioration in physical health and increased mortality.


Arthritis


Arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis, is more prevalent in women. Hormonal differences, genetic predispositions, and mechanical factors related to joint alignment and body mass distribution contribute to this disparity. Arthritis can significantly impair mobility and functional abilities, limiting daily activities and independence.



Disparities in Healthcare Access


Despite their increased health needs, women often face barriers in accessing quality healthcare services. They are more likely to report functional limitations, disabilities, and unmet medical needs compared to men. Factors like socioeconomic status, geographic location, and cultural norms can further exacerbate these disparities, leading to poorer health outcomes for senior women.


The Burden of Caregiving


Many senior women also shoulder the burden of caregiving for ill or disabled spouses, parents, or other family members. This can take a significant toll on their physical and mental health, increasing the risk of depression, anxiety, chronic stress, and other health issues. Caregiving responsibilities can also limit their ability to prioritize their own healthcare needs, leading to delayed or missed preventive care and medical appointments.


Financial Insecurity and Retirement Planning


Impact on Women's Economic Security


Women face significant financial insecurity and challenges in retirement planning due to the persistent gender pay gap. Even within the same occupations, women receive unequal pay for similar work. In 2018, median women's earnings equaled only 81.1% of median men's earnings for full-time, year-round workers. This wage disparity limits women's ability to save and accumulate wealth over their careers.




Lower Retirement Savings


The gender pay gap translates into lower lifetime earnings for women, making it harder for them to save for retirement. Studies show that women have about 44% less saved by the time they retire compared to men. Only 40% of women between ages 25 to 74 believe their retirement savings will last their lifetime, compared to nearly 60% of men. This financial insecurity leaves many women feeling unprepared for retirement.


Challenges with Employer-Sponsored Plans


Lower lifetime earnings also reduce the amount of wealth women can accumulate from employer-sponsored retirement plans, such as defined benefit (DB) and defined contribution (DC) plans. DB plans were designed for long, uninterrupted careers, which disadvantaged women who took breaks for caregiving. Additionally, DC plans rarely provide stable monthly income streams, which is problematic for women's longer life expectancies.



Discrimination and Bias in Healthcare


Gender Bias in Medical Research and Treatment


Historically, medical studies have excluded female participants, and research data have been collected from males and generalized to females. This gender gap in medical research, alongside misogyny, results in real-life implications for female patients, such as delayed care, inappropriate treatments, or withholding of effective treatments.

 

Strategies and Resources for Empowerment


Self-Advocacy and Education


Advocacy is crucial in the workplace, helping women understand their worth and overcome weaknesses. Building confidence, resilience, and negotiation skills in women is critical for success. Involving male counterparts and other women in the conversation can promote awareness of women's disparity issues. Reputable sources like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Financial Literacy and Education Commission, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency offer financial education programs to close the knowledge gap for women. Many banks and credit unions also provide free financial literacy programs for account holders.



Effective Caregiving: Supporting Senior Women's Health and Well-being


In-home caregivers play a crucial role in managing the health and well-being of senior women. Below are some ways in which an in-home caregiver can help to address the unique health challenges faced by elderly women:


Regular Health Screenings and Preventive Care


Caregivers can assist senior women by scheduling regular medical appointments for essential screenings, such as bone density tests for osteoporosis, mammograms for breast cancer, and blood pressure and cholesterol checks for heart disease, as well as providing transportation to these appointments. They ensure that screenings and preventive care visits are kept on track by reminding the senior woman of upcoming appointments and emphasizing the importance of these check-ups. Additionally, caregivers can communicate any health concerns observed during daily interactions to healthcare providers, ensuring timely interventions.





Medication Management


Caregivers can assist senior women by organizing medications using pill organizers or automated dispensers to ensure the correct dosage is taken at the right time. They can educate the senior woman about the importance of her medication regimen and provide reminders to take medications as prescribed. Additionally, caregivers can monitor for any adverse reactions or side effects and communicate these to healthcare providers.



Physical and Occupational Therapy


Caregivers can support senior women's health by facilitating prescribed physical therapy exercises, ensuring they are performed safely and correctly to maintain mobility and strength. They can also encourage and assist with daily physical activities, such as walking or light stretching, to keep the senior woman active. Additionally, caregivers can help implement adaptations recommended by occupational therapy, such as using assistive devices for dressing or modifying the kitchen setup for easier meal preparation.


Mental Health Support


Caregivers can help our senior women by providing companionship and engaging in social activities, which helps reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. They offer emotional support by being a listening ear, which aids in managing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Additionally, introducing activities that stimulate the mind, such as puzzles, reading, or hobbies, helps maintain cognitive function and promotes mental well-being.


Nutritional Guidance


Caregivers can aid the health and well-being of senior women through effective meal planning and preparation, ensuring balanced meals that meet dietary needs and provide essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin D for bone health. They can monitor the senior woman's diet to ensure regular and healthy eating, making necessary adjustments based on dietary restrictions or health conditions. Additionally, caregivers play a vital role in promoting proper hydration by encouraging and reminding the senior woman to drink fluids throughout the day.





Final Thoughts: Empowering Senior Women Through Caregiving


Ultimately, Christian Companions understands that the path to aging gracefully requires a collective effort from individuals, communities, and policymakers.  But by raising awareness, challenging discrimination, and implementing targeted solutions, we can create an environment that enables women to thrive during their golden years.


It is a journey worth embracing, one that celebrates the strengths and contributions of women while acknowledging and addressing the unique obstacles they face.


If you or a loved one might benefit from a caring and compassionate caregiver, please reach out to us today for a free consultation. We’re here to be of service.







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