Urinary incontinence (the unintentional loss of urine) affects 13 million Americans-11 million of them women. Although half of all elderly people experience episodes of incontinence, it is not exclusively a problem among the elderly. In fact, one in four women ages 30 to 59 experiences urinary incontinence. Women are most likely to develop this problem during pregnancy, childbirth, and physical activity or after menopause due to weakened pelvic muscles or pelvic trauma. Incontinence is treatable in 8 out of 10 cases. However, fewer than half of the people who experience this problem discuss it with a health care professional.
An estimated 4 million people in the United States suffer from Alzheimer's disease. In 1995, more than 13,600 women died from the disease. It is the most common cause of dementia for individuals over age 65. Alzheimer's disease places a heavy burden on society, costing an estimated $80 to $100 billion each year. It also takes a heavy toll on the individuals (primarily women) who take care of people with Alzheimer's.
Osteoporosis is a disorder characterized by the thinning and increasing brittleness of bones, a condition that can lead to bone fracture. It afflicts more than 25 million Americans, 80 percent of whom are women. More than half of all women over age 65 suffer from this condition. Each year, osteoporosis causes 1.5 million fractures of the hip, wrist, vertebrae, and other bones. It accounts for 70 percent of all the fractures occurring every year annually in people over the age of 45. Twenty percent of the women who suffer a hip fracture die within one year of that event.
The annual costs associated with osteoporosis are estimated at over $10 billion, and it is a major cause of admission to nursing homes. Although osteoporosis is typically viewed as a geriatric concern, the prevention of osteoporosis spans the entire life course. Approximately 60 percent of a woman's final bone mass is acquired by the time she is 18, and peak bone density is achieved by age 35. To build and maintain healthy bones, girls and women of all ages need to consume calcium-rich foods, get regular exercise, and avoid tobacco and the excessive consumption of alcohol or caffeine. Further treatment strategies include the use of calcium and vitamin D supplements, estrogen replacement therapy at menopause, and nonhormonal medication to stem bone loss.