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Health concerns for women over 60 years old

Australian women have a reasonably high life expectancy of 85, however, to enjoy the older years of that life as much as possible it is important to understand how health conditions could impact you.

Last updated: September 4th 2022
Women over 60 years old have different health concerns to younger women but there are healthy decisions you can make to help. [Source: Shutterstock]

Women over 60 years old have different health concerns to younger women but there are healthy decisions you can make to help. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • Older women can be more at risk of having certain health conditions because of hormonal changes
  • Barriers to accessing health care for older women include long waitlists, cost and stigma
  • You should see your General Practitioner (GP) if there is anything you are concerned about, even if it is something small

Dr Tessa King, Specialist Women’s Health General Practitioner (GP) at Jean Hailes Centre for Women’s Health in Victoria, outlines below some of the top causes of health conditions for women over 60 years old and what to do about them.

Top health issues for women

The most prevalent health issues for women over 65 are:

  • Osteoporosis, affecting 20 – 25 percent of women in their 60s and almost double the number of women in their 70s
  • Diabetes, affecting 10 percent of women in their 60s
  • Osteoarthritis, affecting 40 percent of women over 65
  • Coronary artery disease or heart disease, affecting seven percent of older women
  • Dementia, affecting eight percent of Australians who are 65 and older, two-thirds of which are women
  • Depression and anxiety, affecting 10 – 15 percent of women over 60
  • Breast cancer, which one in seven women will be diagnosed with in their lifetime

It is also quite common for people over 60 to have more than one health condition – such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, or osteoarthritis.

Causes of health conditions

Dr King says there are a number of reasons why these common health conditions are specific to the way that women’s bodies work.

For osteoporosis, Dr King says older women’s bone density is generally less than men and estrogen and progesterone produced during reproductive years protect your bone density.

“Once women are post-menopausal their bone density goes down as a result of the withdrawal of those hormones,” she says.

“The greatest risk period for women in terms of osteoporosis is after 50.”

As women age their chance of getting diabetes also increases, both due to age and to increases in weight that tend to occur with age.

“Women’s metabolism goes down as [you] age and also after menopause [your] body composition changes, so we store more fat on our abdomen rather than hips, thighs and buttocks, and abdominal fat is a greater risk for diabetes,” explains Dr King.

The other conditions affected by menopause are depression and anxiety, the risk for which goes up two to four times around your peri-menopause and menopausal transition, making this stage a “key period of time for mental health”, according to Dr King.

Coronary artery disease has a “cumulative risk”, as deposits of cholesterol build up and cause damage to blood vessels over time.

“Damage to blood vessels from high blood pressure takes years to accumulate generally, so the risk of coronary artery disease or heart disease goes up with age, and again estrogen in our reproductive years tends to be protective so after menopause our risk of that goes up,” explains Dr King.

Barriers to accessing healthcare

Women over 60 may face several barriers to accessing good healthcare and managing their medical conditions effectively.

Dr King says long wait times and the unavailability of appointments in the public health system is a particular issue currently.

“I think that’s worsened, particularly right now as a result of backlog due to COVID, because non-urgent or elective procedures were put on hold during lockdowns. Now there’s quite a significant backlog so there’s difficulty getting patients into outpatient clinics to be reviewed or for elective surgery,” she says.

The other major barrier to accessing healthcare is the cost.

“Cost is certainly a barrier, particularly if people can’t access healthcare through public system but don’t have the financial ability to access it through [the] private system,” says Dr King.

“There is also the cost of things not entirely covered through Medicare, like dentists and allied health providers.

“For some women, the cost of medication would be a barrier for certain conditions, whether those are rarer conditions or more common.

“If a woman has multiple chronic health conditions, they might be needing a lot of medications and that certainly can be a barrier.”

Dr King also believes remembering to take medication or dealing with the side effects of medication can be a barrier to getting optimal health care.

She says there is additional ongoing stigma around seeking help for mental health conditions or conditions like incontinence to add to the mix, as well as language and health literacy barriers for women from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

Making healthy life decisions

The best way to look after your health and prevent these common conditions as much as possible is by reducing risk factors, which can include making healthy lifestyle decisions.

As you age it is important to continue to exercise and be active in a safe and sustainable way.

While Dr King says staying physically active can be “very individual” and look different for many women, she says, “any activity is good”.

You could go for a regular walk, climb some stairs on the way to visit a friend or family member instead of taking the lift, join a pilates class, or ask a health professional to provide you with some gentle exercises to do at home.

Alongside exercising, other practices you can use to look after your health include:

  • Eating not only a healthy diet but a varied diet
  • Reducing alcohol consumption
  • Quitting smoking
  • Using your brain to prevent dementia – staying active intellectually
  • Attending regular health screenings with your GP or through another Government screening provider, for example for breast, bowel or cervical cancer

Dr King says it is especially important that you report any new symptoms or changes in your body to your GP, for example, if you have a skin lesion that changes.

“You might think it’s minor but it could be something that needs to be investigated,” explains Dr King.

“If you have any concerns or questions about your health, see a GP – if there’s something on your mind it’s worth a visit.”

Finally, maintaining connections with people, keeping up your involvement in community and having a sense of purpose as you age, for example through volunteering, is also important for your mental and physical health.

What do you do to stay healthy? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:
Top health concerns for older people
The importance of elderly nutrition
Allied health to assist with the ageing experience
Keeping healthy physically in your old age
Mental health services for older people in aged care


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