Subjects: Behavioral health
Elderly women are afflicted by more than twice as many disabilities as age-matched men, according to scientists at Duke.
Assistant professor of medicine Heather Whitson and her colleagues reached this conclusion after evaluating 5,888 people aged 65 years or more.
Remarkably, obesity and arthritis accounted for 48% of the disability gender gap.
Whitson presented the team’s findings at the Annual Meeting of the American Geriatrics Society.
The study “suggests that women’s tendency to pack on extra pounds in their child-bearing and peri-menopausal years translates into loss of independence in their old age,” she told BurrillReport.
Whitson raised concern that as the obesity epidemic continues unabated, disability rates among older adults are likely to increase, and the impact is likely to affect women disproportionately since they seem to be at higher risk for the problem.
She also noted that women are catching up to men when it comes to the incidence of stroke, cardiovascular disease and emphysema, conditions which can cause substantial disability in their own right.
Whitson’s study is the first to examine how the differential impact of chronic health conditions affects disability rates among the elderly. Many studies had examined how such gender-specific differences impact mortality.
“The reason for the discrepancy in disability had not been well understood but we found that chronic health conditions that women experience in greater numbers than men explain part of that gap,” Harvey Cohen told Burrill. The senior author on the study chairs Duke’s Department of Medicine.
The researchers remained hopeful that women could become motivated to maintain a healthy weight if they knew how critical those extra pounds were in hastening the onset of disabilities and in increasing the risk that they might become a burden on their children or end up in a nursing home.