Quality Of Life
OWL educates and advocates for the following issues:
OWL is committed to enhancing the quality of life for women as they age. And one of the most important ways we can do that is to promote healthy aging practices, because taking control of how we age can add years of independent and vibrant living to our lives.
There are so many problems people believe are an inevitable part of aging, like heart disease, osteoporosis and loss of mobility. But there is a fast-growing body of research demonstrating that by changing the way we live, we can forestall or eliminate the worst of these.
This is of particular importance for women, who live longer than men, are more likely to suffer from chronic illness, and are more likely to need long-term support and services. Women also make 80% of all health-related household decisions and are more likely to be caregivers themselves. All of this puts them on the front line of aging and health.
One of the most notable examples of what happens when we ignore healthy aging practices is obesity. While many public campaigns are focused on childhood obesity, a recent survey shows it is a growing problem for aging Americans. A recent census analysis found that two-thirds of women over age 64 are overweight or obese, a condition that has been shown to increase the incidence of stroke, sleep apnea, heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer and osteoarthritis.
Other issues associated with aging, like hip fractures and depression, can be alleviated with lifestyle changes. OWL will continue to highlight and share best practices and research on these and related topics.
An OWL survey on menopause in 2012 found that women – particularly younger women – often lack even basic information about this major life stage:
* Nearly 70% of younger women (age 30-44) said they didn’t have enough information about menopause;
* Two-thirds of younger women said they did not know most signs and symptoms of menopause;
* Nearly a quarter of younger women – 24% – said they had more information about symptoms and treatments for erectile dysfunction than menopause.
Additionally, the survey showed that younger women weren’t aware of some of the most serious and life-altering symptoms of menopause. Only 16% of women age 30-44 cited painful intercourse as a symptom of menopause, and only half of women in this age group thought vaginal dryness was a serious symptom. Younger women also showed substantially less understanding of weight gain and insomnia as common menopausal symptoms. In contrast, in women ages 55-60, about 50% recognized insomnia and painful intercourse as symptoms of menopause; three-quarters understood vaginal dryness to be a symptom; and 58% reported weight gain as a symptom. OWL continues to support educational efforts around menopause, including a government-sponsored website similar to sites dedicated to other health issues.
Thanks to many factors, the population of older Americans has grown tremendously. There are over 40 million persons age 65 and older according to the 2010 census, and they comprise 13% of the total U.S. population. In 2010, there were 5.8 million people aged 85 or older, and that number is expected to reach 19 million by 2050. As the number of seniors grows, it is likely that the rate of elder abuse - the physical, emotional, and financial harming of seniors by their family, caregivers or strangers - will also increase.
Unfortunately, there is little comprehensive research on elder abuse to provide accurate statistics on the victims, the crimes, or the perpetrators. Women tend to be victims of abuse at a higher rate than men. Individuals with disabilities or dementia and the very old also tend to be victimized at higher rates. Approximately 90% of those committing abuse were family members of the victims. This violent crime is chronically under-reported and inadequately addressed nationwide.
The Elder Justice Act (EJA) was enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Its goal is to combat elder abuse through systematic national data collection and through improvements in the following areas: adult protective services, prevention and reporting in long-term care settings, and forensic centers’ capabilities. The funding necessary to carry out the provisions of the EJA has not been appropriated, although the EJA has been law for four years.
OWL supports measures to fully fund the Elder Justice Act, as well as measures that would effectively prevent elder abuse.
Older Americans Act
Originally enacted in 1965, the Older Americans Act (OAA) helps those 60 and older maintain autonomy and remain in their communities through a variety of programs and services. Those programs and services include meals-on-wheels, elder abuse prevention, in-home assistance, transportation, and caregiver support. The OAA also provides for the employment training and placement of lower-income adults aged 55 and over in community service jobs.
OAA programs can prevent or delay the need for more expensive nursing home care and save costs to individuals, states, and the federal government. OAA programs help prevent unnecessary hospital stays by coordinating care, reducing readmission rates, and managing care transitions. And, for those older Americans who live in assisted living or nursing home facilities, the OAA provides for long-term care ombudsmen to protect their rights.
The Older Americans Act was last reauthorized in 2006, but reauthorization expired in 2011. Since then, Congress has been unable to agree on reauthorizing the Older Americans Act. OWL strongly supports bipartisan reauthorization of the OAA and its full funding to continue the program that helps millions of Americans every day.
End of Life
In the past twenty years there has been a campaign to improve the quality of the end-of-life experience and to educate Americans about their choices. We have made significant progress toward higher quality care; palliative care is now common and hospice services are widely available. The number of people who die in hospitals has dropped. However, there continues to be barriers to choice and control at the end of life. OWL has consistently taken the position that end-of-life decisions rest with the individual. Women 40+ have a unique and distinct stake in the issues surrounding caregiving and the end of life because they are often the primary caregivers in their families.
To promote and protect autonomy in end-of-life decision making, OWL calls on legislators, healthcare providers and advocates to:
* support the coverage of patient-centered counseling on end-of-life care under Medicare, Medicaid, and other public and private health insurance
* adopt policies that protect and expand patients’ rights to decide the course of their medical care and to have those decisions carried out
* expand Medicare and Medicaid coverage of end-of-life care from six months to 18 months, and allow patients to pursue both curative and palliative treatments concurrently
* adopt policies to provide education, training and awareness of the importance of end-of-life planning and care