Women’s Unique Aging Considerations

Estate Planning

Old age is not for sissies. -Bette Davis

Getting older, as the saying implies, has its share of challenges. Everyone understands that there are physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial changes that come with advancing years. But it’s one thing to know about aging; it’s another thing to experience it. 

That’s not to say that getting older doesn’t have its share of benefits—they don’t call them “the golden years” for nothing. But being unprepared for the very real difficulties of aging can make those difficulties hit even harder—especially for women. 

Women have a greater life expectancy than men, and there are a number of other factors unique to women that should be taken into account when planning for the future (or helping an older loved one right now). 

Physical Health Issues for Older Women

One of the biggest, and least talked-about, elderly women’s health issues is menopause. The average age of menopause in the United States is 51, but “the change” impacts affect women’s health for the rest of their lives. 

Menopause is the biological process that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years, when the body’s production of estrogen and progesterone declines sharply. The resulting symptoms, including hot flashes, insomnia, mood changes, loss of energy, and changes in sexual function, can seriously affect a woman’s quality of life.

One serious elderly women’s health issue that is tied to menopause is osteoporosis. Estrogen helps maintain bone density; with the decline in estrogen caused by menopause, women are more vulnerable to bone loss and fractures.

Elderly women’s health concerns also include cardiac issues. Heart disease risk increases with age (again, in part due to a decline in estrogen, which helps regulate blood pressure and supports blood vessel function). Although heart disease remains the leading cause of death for women, it has been studied far less in women than in men, and women are likely to have different symptoms.

The bottom line is that you can’t eliminate the risk of physical illness and symptoms as you age, but you can manage them. Annual checkups with a primary care doctor are an important part of that, as are maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly.

Mental, Emotional, and Social Issues Affecting Older Women

Women’s roles in American society are not nearly as constrained as they once were, but it remains true that society prizes youth and physical attractiveness in women, often over more substantive traits. Many older women report feeling less valued or even “invisible” as they age, which may be one reason that they are more likely than men of a similar age to experience mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. 

Because women tend to live longer than men, and because increasing age is a major risk factor for cognitive impairment, women may also be more likely than men to develop Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. In addition to the loss of function that comes with dementia, it also makes women more vulnerable to elder abuse, sometimes from frustrated caregivers.

Women, even those who have a career outside of the home, are more likely than men to be in caretaking roles throughout their adult lives: for children, spouses, and their own aging parents. When they need care for themselves, there may be no one in their lives who is available for or equipped for the role. That may mean that they will need care in a nursing home or assisted living facility.

The bottom line is that women need to be proactive in caring for their mental as well as their physical health, including getting cognitive screenings, and planning for who will help them when they are no longer able to care for themselves.

Financial Issues Affecting Older Women

There is something of a perfect storm of financial issues affecting older women: they generally earn less than men when employed; are more likely to interrupt their careers (and retirement savings) to care for other family members; and live longer than men, which means that any savings they do have have to last longer. If they do need to go into a nursing home for care, those savings can evaporate quickly. 

Unscrupulous people who prey on the elderly can also cause older women to suffer financially. Older women in cognitive decline are especially vulnerable to financial abuse, including phone and internet scams.

How to Help

If you have a mother, aunt, grandmother, or other female relative who is getting older, you may be feeling disheartened after reading the information above—especially if you are a woman yourself. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to help make a difference for your loved one. 

  • Encourage self-care. Women often don’t make a fuss about the care they provide to others, so loved ones may not realize that they are putting their own needs last. Encourage them to see their doctor at least once a year, even if they are feeling well. Offer to go with them, if they are willing.
  • Be vigilant about potential abuse. It sounds counterintuitive, but often, older women who are being abused (whether physically, sexually, financially, or emotionally) are ashamed of the abuse and may not report it to loved ones. Don’t assume your loved one would tell you if someone were hurting them. Be on the lookout for signs of elder abuse.
  • Look for obstacles (and solutions). Physical, financial, or other limitations may be obstacles to your loved one getting the help they need, and they may be too proud to admit it or ask for help. Perhaps they don’t have transportation to a doctor appointment, or have difficulty standing long enough to cook a healthy meal. If possible, look for ways to resolve the issue while preserving their independence. 
  • Stay in touch. Social isolation is bad for seniors on a number of levels: it contributes to depression and even physical illness. Stay in regular contact with your loved one. 
  • Get experienced help. Navigating the physical, mental, emotional, financial, and and other needs of an older loved one can be overwhelming. An experienced elder law attorney can help you manage all the moving parts.

To learn more about elderly women’s health issues and financial issues and how to help prepare for a secure future, contact Estate Planning & Elder Law Services to schedule a consultation.

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