National Women's Health Policy

Ageing well

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

Demographic data highlights the significance of preparing for ageing of women in Australia. The Australian Bureau of Statistics projects that the number of women aged 65 and over will increase from 1.5 million in 2006 to 3.357 million by 2036, an increase of 123 per cent. In 2006, 15 per cent of women were aged 65 and over, but, by 2036, 25 per cent will be in this older age group.

For older women the leading causes of death are heart disease, stroke, dementia, breast cancer and falls.292 High blood pressure and high blood cholesterol are the leading risk factors.293

Older women are at increased risk of disability, with over 90 per cent of the gains in life expectancy being spent with a disability.294 295 Although women live longer than men, older women experience much higher rates of profound or severe disability than males of the same age (52 in 100,000 compared to 34 per 100,000 for men).296 This is partially due to the high rates of dementia and musculoskeletal diseases in older women.

The social, economic and environmental conditions under which women live and age affects their health and their experience of old age. Gender is a key determinant of this and results in a different old age experience for women and men. The way in which older women are viewed by wider society, and how this is different for men, also affects women’s experience of the ageing process.297

Women are more likely than men to be widowed, live alone or in residential care298, experience financial insecurity299, experience more chronic illness, have multiple disabilities 300 and greater health service use.301 Furthermore, older women are often marginalised or regarded as ‘socially invisible’ in Australian society.

Women’s physical and mental health, housing and care arrangements, social connectedness and financial security change as they age. Women more than men report being concerned about their dependence on others and inability to care for themselves in old age.

Results from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health have suggested that widowed women have broad needs for practical help and advice. There needs to be recognition of the social context in which women attempt to reconstruct their lives. This is not only restricted to the experience of bereavement and loss, but also the related challenges of daily life that include their health, financial and social circumstances.302

An examination of the common conditions that impact on older Australian women’s health and wellbeing reveal that arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions, dementia, and violence are compounding factors.