Older Women Face Unique Health Gaps in California

Lumetra study shows more chronic disease, disability, depression than older men

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 20 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Older women in California -- "older" being defined as 65 years of age or more -- are an increasingly diverse group, and likely to live longer than their male partners. They're also more likely to live alone, in poverty, and have chronic illnesses and limited access to healthcare services.

Researchers from Lumetra, a non-profit healthcare consulting organization based in San Francisco, published their findings in the winter issue of the journal of the California Association for Healthcare Quality.

Linda Sawyer, Ph.D., RN and Chief Operating Officer of Lumetra, Fabio Sabogal, Ph.D. and Saleema Hashwani, Ph.D., RN reported that the issues women face as they age compound their likely health problems

"In the coming decades, as Baby Boomers turn 65 years of age, the number of elderly women will increase considerably," says lead author Dr. Sabogal. "That will create a high demand for gender-specific, culturally appropriate healthcare services and a workforce with specialized nursing and cross-cultural communication skills."

Because women generally survive their husbands and male partners, they are more likely to live alone. Those situations tend to differ by background and culture, as older Hispanic, African-American and Asian women have family members with whom they live more often than do Caucasian women. Isolation can mean an older woman won't have the resources to seek medical help when she needs it.

The increasing likelihood of living in poverty, without insurance, makes it more difficult for older women to manage the chronic diseases and depression that they are also more likely to face than their male counterparts. Drs. Sawyer, Sabogal and Hashwani reported that 13 percent of older women are likely to live in poverty (7% for men) and because of that poverty, 70% of Medicaid patients over 65 are women. 6 in 10 older women must deal with chronic conditions like high blood pressure and arthritis (58% and 65%, respectively), and while 16% of older women report symptoms of depression, only 3% say they've sought help for the illness.

Preventive measures that could change those statistics don't generally reach California's older women. The authors reported that less than 17% of women 65 and older get routine preventive care.

"Baby boomers are about to age into this group," says Dr. Sawyer. "Before the elderly population grows that quickly, we should set up systems that will protect these vulnerable women. They need help managing their health. Coordinators like 'transition coaches' could help them keep track of their care and make sure the multiple care providers they see know each woman's medical history and current status."

The study is available at http://www.cahq.org/docs/CAHQ_4Q_07.pdf.

Lumetra is an independent consulting organization dedicated to improving the quality, safety, efficiency, and integrity of healthcare. Lumetra provides an array of professional services that include medical review, health information technology, quality evaluation and improvement, marketing and communications, and data analysis to private and public entities. As California's Medicare Quality Improvement Organization, nonprofit Lumetra works with healthcare providers across the state to ensure that every person receives the right care, every time. For more information, please visit http://www.lumetra.com.

SOURCE Lumetra