Collaborative Effort Aims to Change How Women Perceive and Experience Aging
AMWA recently joined a working group convened by HealthyWomen, the nation’s leading independent nonprofit health resource for women, and contributed to their new report, “Aging Smart. Aging Well. A National Action Plan,” which sheds light on the unique needs, challenges and opportunities women face, particularly as they age. The report will serve as the basis for a multiyear initiative leveraging HealthyWomen’s 30-plus years of experience and research and the experience and resources of coalition members to foster systemic change that meets the critical needs of women today and our daughters tomorrow, while also shifting the dialogue to one of positive aging.
The health of women in midlife, ages 35-64, has long gone under-researched and under-resourced. To better understand the barriers women face when it comes to receiving the quality of healthcare they deserve, HealthyWomen convened a working group composed of national trailblazers, women’s health experts, medical professional and advocacy organizations representing the priority health areas for midlife women.
With input and recommendations from the working group, HealthyWomen created a national survey that sought to understand women’s perceptions of their health and identify barriers and challenges to diagnosis, treatment and prevention of key conditions and focus areas of women’s midlife health. Nearly 6,200 women from diverse backgrounds between the ages of 35 and 64 participated.
The overwhelming response and the outcome from the data highlighted that there is much work to be done. Despite the fact that virtually all women surveyed reported trying to stay healthy, whether through proper nutrition, sleep or physical activity, as well as staying up to date with recommended vaccines, almost half of those surveyed (42%) rated their overall health as just OK or worse (poor or extremely poor). Nearly two-thirds (62%) of women reported at least one barrier to taking care of their overall health and prevention.
“Women’s healthcare needs are often downplayed, ignored or simply misunderstood, which has led to these gaps and barriers when it comes to aging,” said Beth Battaglino, RN-C,CEO of HealthyWomen. “In addition, many women don’t make their own health a priority, putting the needs of loved ones ahead of their own, and simply accepting aging as a negative fact of life. We will change the narrative — it is no longer OK to simply be OK.”
“There is much to learn about women’s health in mid-life. This should be the most productive, impactful period for all of us,” said AMWA Executive Director, Eliza Lo Chin, MD, “We look forward to working in this coalition to better understand women’s needs and to identify the best, most accessible ways to meet those needs, so woman can live longer productive lives and we can better capture their energy, knowledge and creativity for our communities and the wider society.”
Overall Findings From the Survey:
- Nearly two-thirds (62%) reported at least one barrier to taking care of their overall health and prevention.
- Just a little over half (51%) said they’re fully up to date on all recommended health screenings, and one out of five had no preventive exams in 2021.
- The rising costs of deductibles and copayments are making it increasingly difficult for the average person to get the healthcare they need.
- The high cost of healthy foods is a barrier to staying or becoming healthy, especially with the recent rise in inflation.
- One in 10 said they feel like no one understands what they’re going through and their HCPs have minimized or dismissed their concerns in the past. A few went so far as to say they are afraid of, or do not trust, HCPs.
- Nearly one in four said they had difficulty identifying their health issues. Many women often feel their concerns are dismissed, minimized and even judged.
Key Health Conditions
The survey identified several priority health conditions that disproportionately affect women in midlife and warrant greater attention from policymakers, healthcare providers and women themselves. These areas include autoimmune disorders, bone health, cancer, cardiovascular health, menopause, mental health and substance use, chronic pain, and sexual and reproductive health. Highlights include:
- 39% of women reported their mental health as just ok, or worse, with geography playing a role in their assessment. Those who lived in suburbs and large cities rated their mental health higher than those who lived smaller cities and rural areas.
- Despite 61% of women rating their sexual health as good or extremely good, nearly three-quarters of those surveyed (73%) reported concerns about sexual health, with 6% unable to vocalize to their partner or HCP what is bothering them.
- Nearly half of women with autoimmune disorders (49%) said it had been somewhat or very difficult to get a diagnosis. The biggest hurdle to getting diagnosed was having to go to multiple healthcare provider visits, which was especially burdensome for women with autoimmune disorders, bone conditions and chronic pain.
- Nearly one in five people with autoimmune disorders and chronic pain were not satisfied with their treatment, and among those women who were not satisfied, 15% said it was because the treatment did not make them feel better or work well enough to fix the issue.
- The biggest barrier for women addressing menopause symptoms was lack of knowledge. When asked about dealing with or seeking care for menopause, more than one-fifth (21%) of women ages 45 to 54 said they do not know what they should be doing for menopause.
- Approximately one-fifth (21%) said they have heart disease or related conditions; however, on a positive note, 78% of women with heart disease said it was very or somewhat easy to get their diagnosis.
- Many women are embracing new ways to get care. More than half of respondents had used telehealth or other digital health tools, though many reported that they prefer in-person care.
Based upon the data collected from “Aging Smart. Aging Well. A National Action Plan,” there is a pressing need to address the unique challenges and needs of women in midlife across education, policy, communications, and data and technology.
A formal Aging Smart, Aging Well coalition has been formed to ensure collaborative efforts in addressing key emerging themes, including improving access to care and reducing barriers to early intervention, accessible resources, diagnosis and treatment. The coalition will formulate a multiyear roadmap by which to bridge the gaps, build on existing initiatives and advocate for solutions that elevate women’s midlife health and drive a pro-aging message.
In addition to AMWA and HealthyWomen, members of the coalition include Alliance of Aging Research, American Bone Health, Asian Women for Health, The Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI), Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation (BHOF), DiabetesSisters, Elektra Health, National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health, National Caucus and Center on Black Aging, Inc., National Consumers League, National Menopause Foundation, National Rural Health Association, Nurse Practitioners Women’s Health (NPWH), Tell Every Amazing Lady (TEAL), WomenHeart, as well as thought leaders Dr. Neica Goldberg, Dr. Sharon D. Allison-Ottey, Dr. Barbara Levy and Dr. Mary Jane Minkin.
This initiative was made possible with the generous support of Amgen; AstraZeneca; Bristol Myers Squibb; Daiichi Sankyo, Inc.; Exelixis, Inc.; Novocure, Inc.; and Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
For more information visit HealthyWomen.org.
HealthyWomen is the nation’s leading independent, nonprofit health information source for women. Their website was the first to comprehensively address women’s health and wellness issues and continues to educate women to make informed health decisions by providing objective, fact-based information. For more than 30 years, women have turned to HealthyWomen for answers to their most important healthcare questions. To learn more, visit www.HealthyWomen.org. You can follow HealthyWomen on these platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.