Health Latest

The 5 health concerns Australian women are most concerned about

A new survey has revealed the biggest health issues women over 65 face, and the questions they want answered.

Thanks to significant medical advancements and better access to healthcare, Australians tend to live longer and healthier lives today compared to previous generations.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey, an estimated three in four people aged 65 and over reported their health as good, very good or excellent, but researchers found clocking up more years does have its downside.

The Australian Longitudinal Study of Women’s Health revealed around 87 per cent of people in this age group have at least one chronic condition such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, or arthritis.

To further build on these findings, Jean Hailes, a national not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving the knowledge of women’s health, teamed up with the Alan and Kate Gibson Foundation to survey 1000 Australian women aged 65+ about their major health concerns.

According to Louise Browne, Jean Hailes Head of Public Health and Education, older women often felt they were ignored, unheard, and not seen as active members of the community.

Image: Getty

“There’s not a lot of research done specifically on women as they get older, and they tell us they feel ignored,” says Louise. “They’re no longer in their reproductive years when there’s generally more attention on their health and wellbeing.”

Considering Australia has one of the world’s longest life expectancies for women, Louise believes getting the right information is vital.

“Women told us about the things that they needed to know. There was a big focus on bone and joint health, bladder and continence, physical activity, memory and cognition, and nutrition.”

Alongside the survey, a series of interviews were also conducted to help provide a detailed picture of what older women want in terms of advice, and these are the health concerns that are top of mind.

1. Diet and nutrition

Unlike younger generations, weight and body image were less of a concern, and nutrition was a primary focus for older women.

“Interestingly, weight and body image didn’t rate highly. Younger women focus more on this, but by 65, women shift their focus. They were more concerned about nutrients and staying active,” explains Louise.

The cost of living and staying motivated to cook were also issues.

“Many have been cooking for a long time and are conscious of cost, looking for healthy meals that aren’t expensive. They wanted specific dietary information about managing health issues like heart conditions, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or osteoporosis.”

2. Bone and joint pain

Retired women often have more time to stay healthy and active, although pain can hold them back.

“Women wanted to stay strong and prevent falls, seeking exercise programs tailored for older people, that take into account back, knee, or joint issues,” says Louise. “There was an emphasis on staying active and upright, with an interest in maintaining healthy bones and managing their risk of osteoporosis.”

The challenge lies in finding suitable exercise programs, especially for those with mobility issues.

“Programs like those offered in retirement communities show there’s availability but finding them in the community can be difficult. The overall interest in staying active was seen as really positive though.”

3. Bladder control

One area women voiced shame and stigma was around bladder control and leakage. Many expressed embarrassment caused by the condition, saying it impacted their confidence, as well as the likelihood of participating in social and physical activities.

“Bladder leakage affects nearly 40 per cent of women and was a significant concern,” says Louise. “It prevents them from going out, shopping, or doing physical activities due to the fear of not finding a toilet. Women often don’t volunteer this information to doctors due to embarrassment.”

However, most bladder leakage can be treated or managed. Pelvic floor physios can help manage symptoms, and there are medical avenues that can be explored with your GP.

4. Social isolation

Staying connected to family, friends and community groups is undoubtedly good for your health, but as you get older it can be hard to maintain and build new relationships.

“Social connection is vital for mental health and wellbeing. Some felt they lost their sense of self after retiring, especially if they had significant roles,” explained Louise.

Losing a partner also impacted community ties as well as the fact women often care for family members, further limiting their social interactions.

“Moving to a new community after downsizing or entering a care facility also affected their sense of connection. We focused on providing information on where women could connect locally to reduce social isolation, which significantly impacts their health.”

5. Sexual health

Good sexual health is important at any age and while many of the women surveyed said they still want intimacy and touch, most felt it was a taboo topic.

“Older women are less confident discussing sexual health issues compared to younger generations. They often feel awkward discussing these topics, especially with their doctor.”

Starting new relationships after losing a partner is another challenge they faced, with some women missing the safe sex messages from the 80s and 90s.

“Older women might not be aware of STI risks. Starting new relationships later in life requires discussing safer sex, a new experience for many of them.”

Another factor is pain. Physical changes associated with ageing can make sex uncomfortable or painful for some women.

“Post-menopausal women can experience vaginal atrophy, making sexual pleasure difficult. Our content helps women have these conversations, emphasising that it’s okay to seek pleasure and intimacy.”

Where to find out more

The survey results led to the Jean Hailes team developing a healthy ageing portal, designed specifically to help women over 65 stay physically and mentally well.

“Ageing can be a bit doom and gloom. We wanted to try and reframe that and give women information that could be helpful in a positive way.”

You can access all the resources to learn more about looking after your physical and mental health here.

Related stories