Hopkins study of women past 65 aims at prevention of dependency


October 27, 1992|By Dr. Genevieve Matanoski | Dr. Genevieve Matanoski,Contributing Writer

There are many assumptions about the aging process that simply aren't true. One of them is that, as we get older, the quality of our lives diminishes and we must become dependent on our loved ones or the health care system. For many older Americans, this is not the case. However, there has not been much research into what kinds of physical limitations older people face and how they are best managed to prevent dependency for the group of people who may be at risk.

That's about to change for the women of Baltimore. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and School of Medicine are going into Baltimore City and Baltimore County communities to talk to women over 65 who have some form of physical limitation in their daily functioning.

This major new effort is called the Women's Health and Aging Study. It is a $7.9-million project funded by the National Institute on Aging and is the first of its kind. It is directed by Dr. Linda Fried, a Hopkins physician who specializes in preserving the health of older adults.

Q: What is physical disability?

A: This is a medical term used to describe the limitations people may have in their ability to carry on the tasks necessary or important in their lives. It is often due to chronic health problems.

Q: How serious is the problem of disability in older women in this country?

A: The 4 million disabled women over age 65 are two-thirds of disabled older adults. The health care costs associated with disability in people over 65 are $65 billion a year and will increase as that population expands.

Q: What does that mean for the older women in this country?

A: On the average, if a woman lives to be 65, she can expect to live another 19 years. Many will live longer. Some need help with things as basic as eating, dressing, bathing or walking. Even light housework may be a burden. The possibility of such dependency is a serious dilemma for many people as they age.

Q: How will the Johns Hopkins study help?

A: While the work is just beginning, researchers expect it will provide important insights into ways to improve the life quality and independence of older women.

Q: How will the study work?

A: Johns Hopkins will randomly identify women in the Baltimore area who are over 65, with the help of the Health Care Financing Administration (Medicare). Such random sampling is important to making the scientific results of the study as beneficial to older women as possible. Researchers will visit 5,400 of them at random. After a brief talk about their health and how it may affect daily living, 1,000 of the women will be asked to participate for three years.

Q: What does the study involve?

A: In addition to helping doctors understand any health conditions, physical limitations or disabilities older women may have, the 1,000 volunteers will be examined in their homes by nurse practitioners. They then will be visited about every 6 months to catch up on any changes in their lives.

L Q: What should a woman do if she's asked to be in the study?

A: Potential participants will receive a letter from the federal government, a letter from Dr. Fried and a brochure with details. There are several things to keep in mind. The first is that no one is required to be part of the study. The second is that there is no charge. And the third is that you should ask to see the identification of any person who claims to be inquiring about a research study. Every member of this group has a special identification badge.

Q: Why would a woman want to participate?

A: For one thing, the information could help millions of women around the United States. Also, participants will receive physical zTC examinations at no charge; this information may be useful to their doctors. Often, people receiving such evaluations find they are better able to assess their true abilities and gain more confidence in how they function. And, lastly, participants will receive a token payment.

If you or members of your family want more information about the study, contact Dr. Linda Fried and her Hopkins colleagues at 532-2250.

Dr. Matanoski is a physician and professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

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