Top level results from WCHM’s research on the health and wellbeing of older ACT women

Women’s understanding of what good health means – Many of the older women who responded told us that good health meant being active, engaged, independent and free to live a good life. Others reported that for them living without pain and chronic disease in their lives was good health.

Women who participated on our focus groups reported that to feel mentally and physically well women they needed a good sense of self, to be in a good financial situation, to exercise for mental and physical health, and to have leisure activities and friendships.

Self-rated health – Over fifty per cent of the women respondents rated their physical health as good/excellent, and just over 60% rated their mental health as good/excellent. For those women who identified as having a disability only 16% rated their physical health as good/excellent.

Access to health services – The majority of women responded that they had accessed their GP in the last 12 months, the majority had filled prescriptions and three quarters had been to see their dentist.  In relation to women aged 75 plus, they advised that went to the emergency department (for emergency purposes) at twice the rate of the other age groups, but were least likely to attend the walk-in-centres in the last 12 months.

Barriers or difficulties experienced when accessing health services – Around thirty per cent of women reported that their barriers to health services and supports were appointment availability, affordability and wait times. When comparing the age groups, women who were 55-64 years old reported affordability as the biggest barrier, whereas women 65-74 or over 75 reported appointment availability as their biggest barrier.

In WCHM focus groups women talked about the way they were treated by health professionals as they aged. Some spoke of really good experiences, but others recounted experiences where they weren’t believed, and which led to very poor patient outcomes. Women also advised that they had more time since retiring from work to attend appointments, which was positive since they reported health services often offer services only in work hours.

In general women (in the focus groups) said that they felt connected to health services, and  to their GP when they were seen by them as a whole person, and when they were respectful and caring.

Women’s top health conditions – The top three health issues were: chronic conditions (60%), weight diet and fitness (30%), and mental health (21%). These were followed by pain and chronic pain (18%) and skeletal and soft tissue injury (12%).  Most women told us that there were supports and services for managing their top three health issues although some reported barriers to those supports and services, especially to mental health services and supports. Affordability was the most mentioned barrier for the top three health issues, especially when paying for multiple services and supports.

Health information seeking –  Older women’s first choice for seeking health information generally was from their GP, and the second choice was online for general and specific issues. Women in the WCHM focus groups used many sources to ensure they had enough information. Some women reported that they searched online for health information before they attended the GP, whereas others did their online searching after the appointment. Women also talked about ensuring that the information was trustworthy and from reputable sources.

Income and housing – Mostly women were either living alone (42%) or with their partner (30%). The 65-74 year old group (55%) and the 75 plus year olds (57%) were more likely to be living alone than the 55-64 year old group (26%).

Social connectedness and inclusion – Twenty three per cent of respondents did not feel socially connected. Barriers to feeling socially connected included mobility and illness limitations, travel difficulties, financial situation, difficulties making friendships and limitations on time.

Many of the older women in our focus groups told us that they wanted to be valued as they age, and that if they felt like they are contributing to society in some way then they also felt socially included. Relationships were really important to maintain, and equally so was volunteering or contributing to community groups.

Women in the focus groups also told us that improvements could be made to the transport system to improve their social connectedness. Women spoke of not being able to walk the distance to the bus stop and being worried about safety of paths in suburbs. Some women also talked about how disability spaces could also be increased to improve access to buildings for older women.