Aging Well Among Women Veterans Compared with Non-Veterans in the Women's Health Initiative

Published in: The Gerontologist, v. 56, no. Suppl. 1, Feb. 2016, p. S14-S26

Posted on RAND.org on January 28, 2016

by Andrea Z. LaCroix, Eileen Rillamas-Sun, Nancy F. Woods, Julie C. Weitlauf, Oleg Zaslavsky, Regina A. Shih, Michael J. Lamonte, Chloe E. Bird, Elizabeth Yano, Meryl LeBoff, Donna L. Washington, Gayle Reiber

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PURPOSE OF THE STUDY: To examine whether Veteran status influences (a) women's survival to age 80 years without disease and disability and (b) indicators of successful, effective, and optimal aging at ages 80 years and older. DESIGN AND METHODS: The Women's Health Initiative (WHI) enrolled 161,808 postmenopausal women aged 50–79 years from 1993 to 1998. We compared successful aging indicators collected in 2011–2012 via mailed questionnaire among 33,565 women (921 Veterans) who reached the age of 80 years and older, according to Veteran status. A second analysis focused on women with intact mobility at baseline who could have reached age 80 years by December 2013. Multinominal logistic models examined Veteran status in relation to survival to age 80 years without major disease or mobility disability versus having prevalent or incident disease, having mobility disability, or dying prior to age 80 years. RESULTS: Women Veterans aged 80 years and older reported significantly lower perceived health, physical function, life satisfaction, social support, quality of life, and purpose in life scale scores compared with non-Veterans. The largest difference was in physical function scores (53.0 for Veterans vs 59.5 for non-Veterans; p < .001). Women Veterans were significantly more likely to die prior to age 80 years than non-Veteran WHI participants (multivariate adjusted odds ratio = 1.20; 95% confidence interval, 1.04–1.38). In both Veteran and non-Veteran women, healthy survival was associated with not smoking, higher physical activity, healthy body weight, and fewer depressive symptoms. IMPLICATIONS: Intervening for smoking, low physical activity, obesity, and depressive symptoms has potential to improve chances for healthy survival in older women including Veterans.

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