Rural Older Women’s Experiences with Chronic Health Problems: Daily Challenges and Care Practices

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Virginia Tech

Living with chronic diseases and their manifestations affects daily functioning and influences the quality of life of older women. This study, guided by the integration of life-course theory and a trajectory model of chronic illness, examines health care practices and management strategies that women with multiple chronic conditions incorporate into their daily lives. Responses to a telephone interview with 268 community-dwelling rural older adults (M age = 77 yrs., S.D. = 5.40) and qualitative interviews with 58 of the women from the larger sample were analyzed to examine the functional, psychological, and social consequences of their health. The women reported an average of 3.5 chronic conditions; the most common were arthritis (68%), heart disease (57%), osteoporosis (41%), and diabetes (31%). Findings suggest that the women played an active role in shaping the course of their illness within the context of their everyday living situations. One condition typically predominated their lives; however, regardless of the type or severity of their conditions, the importance of maintaining independence and autonomy was strongly emphasized by the women. Pain often contributed to functional limitations associated with their health conditions and frequently precluded or interfered with their completion of daily activities. To compensate for these changes, many older women slowed down the pace and number of activities they performed. Although they appreciated support from members of their social network, they infrequently turned to them for assistance. Consideration of personal and social variables that influence the life experiences of older women managing multiple health problems warrants continued investigation.