Women's College Research Institute

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Many older women inactive, potentially due to pain

Fall 2011

Dr. Paula Rochon

More than half of older women are physically inactive, and fewer than half are taking steps to improve their health, according to research involving Women's College Hospital scientists Drs. Paula Rochon and Andrea Gruneir, who collaborated with researchers at St. Michael's Hospital and the Institute for Clinical and Evaluative Sciences (ICES).

"Two-thirds of women ages 80 and older reported functional limitations and more than one in three low-income older women reported that their activities were limited by pain," says principal investigator Dr. Paula Rochon, senior scientist at Women's College Research Institute and professor in the departments of medicine and health policy management and evaluation at the University of Toronto.

Rochon explains that many older people – of whom the majority are women – suffer from multiple chronic conditions like arthritis, diabetes, depression and heart disease. The study found that more than 60 per cent of women age 65 and older have two or more chronic conditions.

"Chronic conditions like arthritis can lead to functional impairment and pain, which impede physical activity and other healthy behaviours," explains Rochon. "This inactivity tends to worsen outcomes for people with serious illnesses like diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease."

The problem is compounded by the fact that many health-care providers have little training in the care of older adults — the study showed that in areas across Ontario the number of geriatricians range from just one to five per 100,000 adults 65 and older.

But Rochon (a geriatrician) says that in addition to needing more geriatricians, "all health providers need to think about how we can promote health, not just in old age but through the entire lifespan."
"Aging doesn't just happen when you're old. It's affecting all of us every day," she explains. "All health-care providers and people need to think ahead and prepare to maintain their function and independence as they age – before these problems arise and become unmanageable."

The Older Woman's Health report is the first in the province to provide examine women's health in relation to income, education, ethnicity and geography. The findings are detailed in a report of the POWER (Project for an Ontario Women's Health Evidence-Based Report) Study — a joint study from St. Michael's Hospital and ICES (www.powerstudy.ca), and funded by Echo: Improving Women's Health in Ontario (the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care). 

Rochon PA, Bronskill SE, Gruneir A, Liu B, Johns A, Lo AT, Bierman AS. Older Women's Health. In: Bierman AS, editor. Project for an Ontario Women's Health Evidence-Based Report: Toronto; 2011.


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