Women in the United States live longer than men – the majority live into their 80s. Many women age well and experience good health, but it depends in large part on having the proper preventive health screenings and practicing healthy lifestyle habits.
According to the National Vital Statistics Report, the longest life expectancy in the United States is as follows:
- White females: 81.4 years
- Black females: 78.5 years
- White males: 76.7 years
- Black males: 72.5 years
Here are some of the health issues that women and their loved ones need to be aware of so that they can receive appropriate care, screenings and treatments as they age.
Heart disease is the number one killer of women
It is an inescapable fact that one in four women in the U.S. dies of heart disease every year, while one in 30 dies of breast cancer. Once heart attack strikes, the rate of full recovery for women is not good. According to the National Institutes of Health(NIH):
- Twenty-three percent of women will die within 1 year after having a heart attack
- Within 6 years of having a heart attack, about 46 percent of women become disabled with heart failure
- Two-thirds of women who have a heart attack fail to make a full recovery
Why is this such a catastrophic situation for women? There are many factors involved. In some cases it is the result of family history. Other women have one or more risk factors for heart disease that are never addressed. Menopause increases heart attack risk two-fold according to the NIH and age becomes a risk factor once a woman reaches 55. According to the NIH. “One in eight women between the ages of 45 and 64 has some form of heart disease, and this increases to one in four women over 65.”
For women, risk factors for heart disease include:
- Cigarette smoking
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Physical inactivity
- Family history
Women can and should change the risk factors under their control, including:
- Keep total cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight under control
- Ask your doctor about having a stress test and EKG
- Eat well: fresh fruits and vegetables, fat free dairy products, whole grains, lean proteins and limited salt, sweets, sugars and red meats.
Regular health screenings are important at all ages
Health screenings are the most important tool for the early detection, and effective treatment, of disease. Screenings vary by age. Women should discuss these tests with their doctor and follow their recommendations regarding how frequently, and what age, to have them done.
- Pap smear
- Bone density test
- Blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, skin cancer, and vision screening
- Hearing tests
Alcohol use and misuse can become a problem
For older women who face loneliness and depression, alcohol use and misuse may become a problem. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), older women may be at risk for alcohol problems as they outlive their spouses and friends, experience money, housing or health problems.
As women age, they may react differently to alcohol than they did in younger years. One problem is that women’s bodies process alcohol differently. As they age and have less muscle mass their bodies metabolize alcohol differently, making them more susceptible to its effects. Also, alcohol may interact with prescription or over-the-counter medications, leading to alcohol-related health problems. Because of these risks, the NIAAA recommends that women over the age of 65 have no more than one alcoholic drink per day, or seven drinks per week.
There are signs and symptoms of alcohol problems in older women that you can watch for. According to the NIAAA, they include:
- Increased tolerance to alcohol or medications
- Depression, mood swings
- Memory loss
- New difficulties in decision making
- Poor hygiene
- Falls, bruises, burns
- Family problems
- Idiopathic seizures (i.e., seizures with an unknown origin or cause)
- Financial problems
- Sleep problems
- Social isolation
- Poor nutrition
Women may need mental health support
As women age, they need more mental health support. In fact, women are the primary consumers of mental health services. According to the World Health Organization:
- Unipolar depression, predicted to be the second leading cause of global disability burden by 2020, is twice as common in women.
- Depression is not only the most common women’s mental health problem but may be more persistent in women than men. More research is needed.
Depression may be more common in women because they outlive their spouses. Because of their longevity, women are more apt to reach an age where they dealing with depression and anxiety, and perhaps the effects of dementia. It’s important to be aware of this, and for loved ones and caregivers to watch for the signs of depression which can include:
- A hopeless outlook
- Increased fatigue
- Lack of interest in activities, social gatherings, hobbies
- Sleep problems
- Lack of appetite
- Uncontrolled emotions
- Memory problems
- Lack of interest in intimacy with others
If you notice these symptoms in a loved one, seek help from her physician and ask for a referral to a mental health professional. Depression is not a matter of “feeling sad”. It can be a chemical reaction in the brain or an intractable depression caused by deep emotional distress that needs to be treated professionally.
Women can remain healthy as they age if important health issues are addressed regularly. Regular screenings, good nutrition, adequate sleep, and an awareness of the issues addressed here can help to maintain a healthy life and address disease and illness early, should it occur.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.