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Women who earn less become more frail: study

Women who have trouble managing on their income later in life are up to three times more likely to be frail than those on more stable incomes, a study has found.

The University of Queensland research, published in The Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, looked at the relationship between socio-economic status in later life and frailty in women. It used data from the Australian Longitudinal Study of Women’s Health and looked at women over a 12-year period.

All women were aged from 73 to 78 at the start of collection and 85 to 90 be the end of that time. Frailty was measured by deficits relating to fatigue, strength, mobility, illness and weight loss.

Dr Paul Gardiner, a research fellow with UQ’s Centre for Research in Geriatric Medicine, said the study found that forty-one per cent were not frail at the beginning of the study but had increasing frailty as time went on. One in five women remained free of frailty over the entire time.

The remaining 40 per cent of women experienced high frailty and were categorised as frail from the beginning of the study and throughout. Gardiner said: “We found that women who had trouble managing on their income were three times more likely to be in this group, suggesting this plays a role in determining whether a woman will be frail in later life.”

He said while previous studies have reported an association with education, the new research found this disappeared once socioeconomic status later in life was taken into account.

“Therefore, health professionals working with women as they age should consider late-life socio-economic status as well as biological factors when looking for predictors of frailty,” he said.

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