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Are Women Getting the Health Care They Really Need as They Get Older?

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John Whyte, MD, MPH - Blogs
By John Whyte, MD, MPHBoard-certified internistDecember 12, 2019

Women are living longer than ever before. The average life expectancy for women in the United States is over 81 years – five years longer than men! Women’s health care needs change throughout the aging process – the concerns of a woman in her 20’s are different than a woman in menopause. But are women getting the age-appropriate care they need and deserve?

To find out, WebMD and HealthyWomen developed a comprehensive survey to learn about women’s physical, mental, and sexual health. We surveyed over 3,000 women, age 18 and over, and segmented the data by race/ethnicity, menopausal life stage (e.g. premenopausal vs postmenopausal), socioeconomic status, geography, and insurance status. The results of the survey reveal new insights on women’s attitudes and behaviors as they move through the aging process.

As a doctor, I was encouraged to see that survey respondents across all life stages agreed about what makes up the concept of healthy aging. At least 8 in 10 women believe things like eating healthy, living an active life, getting enough sleep, being proactive about their own health care, maintaining brain health, and practicing prevention all describe healthy aging. This is good news!

But the survey also revealed some areas where I believe we can do better. A couple of examples:

  • Concerns about future conditions: Though many of the women in the survey expressed concern about developing conditions such as cancer, dementia, heart disease, and stroke, the survey results suggest that most aren’t having conversations with their doctor about these concerns. For example, only 3% of menopausal and 5% of postmenopausal women have talked to their health care provider about dementia, despite it being one of the conditions women worry the most about developing.
  • Menopause symptoms: Despite an overwhelming majority of perimenopausal and menopausal women reporting 6 or more menopausal symptoms, more than one-third (35%) of perimenopausal and nearly one-quarter (24%) of menopausal women say they have not talked to a health care professional about any of their symptoms.
  • Mental and sexual health: We need to expand our definition of “healthy aging” to include mental, emotional and sexual health, not just physical health. For instance, many women are anxious and depressed – and some mistakenly believe it is a normal part of aging. Yet, physicians aren’t asking about it and women aren’t talking about it during the appointment– despite good screening tools and therapies.

Again, these are just a couple examples; the survey also looked at experiences and behaviors around sexual health, hormone treatment, pre-menopause, and overall quality of life – we can learn a lot from this information. I hope you will take some time to look at the full report here.

It’s terrific that women are living longer. Let’s make sure that they are living with the highest quality of life.

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About the Author
John Whyte, MD, MPH

John Whyte, MD, MPH, is a board-certified internist and the Chief Medical Officer at WebMD, where he leads efforts to develop and expand strategic partnerships that create meaningful change around important and timely public health issues. As a popular health writer, he has been published extensively both in medical and mainstream publications.

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