12/28/2011 12:17 EST | Updated 02/27/2012 05:12 EST

Older women face chronic conditions, lack of care

Older women face many disabling chronic health conditions yet are not having their medical needs met, suggests a recent Ontario report.

The report, Health System Use by Frail Ontario Seniors, finds that women often outlive men, but they face crippling conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis and mental health issues without receiving adequate treatment or care. Many live alone, are not financially secure and do not have access to a regular informal care provider.

"This interplay between health and social forces means that older women are more likely to enter long-term care facilities than are older men," reads the report. "It also means that older women who do enter long-term care are likely to enter at earlier stages than older men and therefore to have longer stays."

The authors suggest that enabling older women to stay in their homes with proper care can be a way of reducing the need for long-term institutional care.

The five-year study, which looked at Ontario women over 76, was conducted by the experts from St. Michael's Hospital, Women's College Hospital and the Institute for Clinical and Evaluative Studies.

The study identified 392,870 women over 76 in Ontario. The data shows there are more than 100,000 women over the age of 85 compared with approximately 50,000 men over age 85 in Ontario. "This means that the absolute number of older Ontarians who require services are disproportionately women," reads the report.

"Often they are caregivers and don't pay as much attention to themselves as they take care of everyone else," Dr. Arlene Bierman, a geriatrician at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and one of the leaders of the study, told CBC News.

"We need a program that focuses on patient-centred care, not specific diseases."

Bierman said health professionals need training on how to work with older women and to provide programs to deal with their special needs. They also need to ensure older women have access to those services.