The Gerontologist Supplement Highlights VA Research on Health Issues Affecting Older Women Veterans
This special Supplement of The Gerontologist addresses important VA research priorities that focus on the needs of older women Veterans. In 2010, a women's health research agenda was developed to guide VA research initiatives across the life span of women Veterans, whose numbers are growing in VA healthcare. In the past decade alone, the number of women seeking care at VA facilities has doubled. Further, using data from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) – a 22-year prospective study focused on identifying major gender-specific risk factors for morbidity, death, and disability – Weitlauf and colleagues found that Veterans had a 13% higher all-cause mortality relative to non-Veterans (2015, Women's Health Issues). This finding triggered important secondary analyses on the health of older women that were sponsored by HSR&D and the Office of Women's Health Services. This Supplement includes 13 articles that highlight findings on a range of topics related to women Veterans and aging, such as, menopause, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, and substance use.
Articles include, but are not limited to the following:
- LaCroix and colleagues found that women Veterans aged 80 and older reported significantly lower perceived health, physical function, life satisfaction, social support, quality of life, and purpose in life compared with non-Veterans. Also, among WHI participants who were aged 80 and older, women with prior military service were more likely to reside in a place with special services for the elderly.
- Washington and colleagues compared longitudinal trajectories of physical activity and sedentary behavior between Veteran and non-Veteran women. Although Veterans had higher baseline physical activity than non-Veterans, they had greater declines in physical activity over time.
- LaFleur and colleagues found that the age-adjusted rate of hip fracture was significantly higher for Veterans compared with non-Veterans. After adjustment for fracture risk factors, the hazard ratio of hip fracture was about 20% higher for Veterans relative to non-Veterans.
- Lehavot and colleagues found a 20% heightened risk of all-cause mortality among sexual minority women relative to heterosexual women Veterans. Sexual minority women were at greater risk of death from any cancer, and this relationship was stronger among Veterans than non-Veterans.
- Callegari and colleagues compared the prevalence of hysterectomy with or without bilateral-salpingo oophorectomy (BSO – removal of both ovaries and Fallopian tubes) between Veterans and non-Veterans. In an analysis of more than 140,000 post-menopausal women, they found that Veterans <65 years at WHI enrollment were more likely to have experienced prior hysterectomy with or without BSO, and early hysterectomy before age 40 compared with non-Veterans.
- Gray and colleagues examined the impact of chronic conditions on physical function among Veterans and non-Veteran women with diabetes. Among women with diabetes, having any additional chronic condition accelerated the decline in physical function – an effect that was even more pronounced among Veterans.
- Padula and colleagues found Veteran status was associated with higher prevalence of protective factors that may have helped preserve cognitive functioning initially. However, findings ultimately revealed more pronounced cognitive decline among women Veterans.
The Gerontologist. Women Veterans in the Women’s Health Initiative. February 1, 2016; 56:1:115-125.