Women with spinal cord injury and the impact of aging.

Objective: The objectives of this study were to describe what women with longstanding spinal cord injury (SCI) feel they are experiencing as they age, how they are coping and what they require in order to ensure their continued social and economic participation in society.

Study Design, Methods, and Setting: A naturalistic approach was taken, incorporating three focus groups (n=10) and key informant interviews (n=19) of women with SCI ranging in age from 31 to 70 years and living in rural and urban communities in Ontario, Canada.

Results: The women feel isolated and sense many of their key concerns are ignored or dismissed by health care and service providers. The common physical changes and concerns were gynecological/sexual and bowel and bladder issues. Socio-emotional changes with age included impact of their age-related changes on important relationships and re-evaluation of personal priorities. They articulated worries including declining health, increasing dependency and financial stresses. Additional resources they need to age successfully include improved environmental accessibility, assistive devices, more flexible and responsive attendant and household support, access to recreation and fitness opportunities and peer and psychological support.

Conclusion: Many of the issues raised by the women were consistent with the authors’ previous examination of aging in men with SCI and women with disabilities. The most striking difference was their profound sense of isolation and perceptions that health care and service providers were unprepared or unwilling to address the unique issues they face as women living and now aging with SCI.