Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Grandma Got Shortchanged By Medical Research

Older Woman with Alzheimer Neglected by Medical Research

Older women are being significantly shortchanged by medical research. Men are the focus of more health studies, leaving unanswered questions about women and cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other serious conditions. Judith Graham tells us more.

Missing the Mark on Menopause

Older women have more medical issues than men. They face disabilities, autoimmune illnesses, depression, and anxiety. Despite this, medical research has left them in the lurch for decades. Last year, the Biden administration tried to fix this with the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research.

Stephanie Faubion from the Mayo Clinic isn’t impressed. “It’s completely inadequate,” she says. Many drugs for older adults were studied mostly in men. For example, statins for high cholesterol.

A Comedy of Errors

Faubion adds, “It’s assumed that women’s biology doesn’t matter.” The FDA needs to demand that trial data be reported by sex and age. This helps determine if drugs work the same for women. Take the Alzheimer’s drug Leqembi. It showed a 27% slower cognitive decline. Yet, it slowed decline by 12% in women and 43% in men. Something is not right and really fishy here.

Two-thirds of older adults with Alzheimer’s disease are women. If that wasn’t enough, they typically have multiple conditions. These include pathologically high blood pressure and osteoarthritis. Despite these crappy numbers, women outlive men by over five years. If we care about geriatric wellbeing, we must turn our attention to older women’s health.

Heartbeats and Hypocrisy

Heart disease becomes more common after menopause. It kills more women than any other condition. Yet, women receive less care than men. Martha Gulati from Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles says, “We’re notably less aggressive in treating women.” Why do we delay evaluations for chest pain? Why don’t we give blood thinners or do procedures like aortic valve replacements as often? We need answers.

Women are less likely to have obstructive coronary artery disease. They’re more likely to have damage to smaller blood vessels. This remains undetected. Women also face more complications from cardiac procedures. “We have very limited data,” Gulati notes. This needs to change.

Brain Drain

How can women reduce their risk of cognitive decline and dementia? JoAnn Manson from Brigham and Women’s Hospital says we need clear messages for women. Stress affects women’s brain health. So does the loss of estrogen with menopause. Women also have higher rates of multiple sclerosis and stroke. It is absurd ladies are shortchanged by medical research!

Gilliam Einstein from the University of Toronto says, “Alzheimer’s doesn’t start at 75 or 80.” We need to understand how earlier life events affect women’s risk.

Depression Dilemmas

Why are older women more vulnerable to anxiety and depression? Hormonal changes and stress play a role. Paula Rochon from the University of Toronto points to “gendered ageism.” Older women are rendered invisible.

Helen Lavretsky from UCLA asks important questions. How does menopause affect mood and stress? What non-drug interventions can help older women build resilience? Think yoga, meditation, and tai chi. What combination of these is most effective?

Cancer Conundrums

How can cancer screening and treatments improve for older women? Supriya Gupta Mohile from the University of Rochester wants better breast cancer screening guidelines. Currently, women 75 and older are all treated the same. This doesn’t account for differences in health status.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says evidence is no good for screening mammography in women 75 or older. This leaves doctors without clear guidance. Mohile also wants more research on lung cancer treatments for older women. Many have multiple conditions and functional impairments.

Bones of Contention

How can older women maintain mobility and self-care abilities? Osteoporosis is way more common in older women. It means weakening of bones – and, naturally, increases fracture risks. The loss of estrogen with menopause is a factor.

JoAnn Manson says this is important to women’s quality of life but is understudied. Jane Cauley from the University of Pittsburgh wants more data on osteoporosis in older Black, Asian, and Hispanic women. She also wants better drugs with fewer side effects.

Marcia Stefanick from Stanford wants to know which strategies best motivate older women to stay active. She also wants more studies on preserving muscle mass and strength.

The Final Twist

Why is medical research stuck in the past? Are there secret societies of couch potatoes funding these studies? Only a deep dive into the bizarre world of research biases might tell.

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