J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2022 Sep 10:glac170. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glac170. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, public health measures, including stay-at-home orders, were widely instituted in the United States (US) by March 2020. However, few studies have evaluated the impact of these measures on continuity of care among older adults living with chronic diseases.
METHODS: Beginning in June 2020, participants of the national Women's Health Initiative (WHI) (N=64,061) were surveyed on the impact of the pandemic on various aspects of their health and well-being since March 2020, including access to care appointments, medications, and caregivers. Responses received by November 2020 (response rate=77.6%) were tabulated and stratified by prevalent chronic diseases, including hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease (CVD).
RESULTS: Among 49,695 respondents (mean age=83.6 years), 70.2% had a history of hypertension, 21.8% had diabetes, and 18.9% had CVD. Half of respondents reported being very concerned about the pandemic and 24.5% decided against seeking medical care to avoid COVID-19 exposure. A quarter reported difficulties with getting routine care and 45.5% had in-person appointments converted to telemedicine formats; many reported cancelled (27.8%) or rescheduled (37.7%) appointments. Among those taking prescribed medication (88.0%), 9.7% reported changing their method of obtaining medications. Those living with and without chronic diseases generally reported similar changes in care and medication access.
CONCLUSIONS: Early in the pandemic, many older women avoided medical care or adapted to new ways of receiving care and medications. Therefore, optimizing alternative services, like telemedicine, should be prioritized to ensure that older women continue to receive quality care during public health emergencies.
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