The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on older women in the Women's Health Initiative

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2022 Mar 3;glac056. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glac056. Online ahead of print.


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis of which older adults are a high-risk group for severe illness and mortality. The objectives of this paper are to describe the methods and responses to a COVID-19 survey administered by the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) to assess the impact of the pandemic on older women.

Methods: WHI is an ongoing prospective cohort study that recruited 161,808 postmenopausal women from 1993-1998. From June-October 2020, participants in active follow-up were surveyed by mail, phone, or online to assess health and well-being, living situations, lifestyle, health care, and self-reported COVID-19 testing, treatment, and preventive behaviors.

Results: Of 64,061 eligible participants, 49,695 (average age 83.6 years ± 5.6) completed the COVID-19 survey (response rate 77.6%). Many participants reported very good or good well-being (75.6%). Respondents reported being very concerned about the pandemic (51.1%) (more common in urban compared to rural areas), with 6.9% reporting disruptions in living arrangements and 9.7% reporting changes in medication access. Participants (54.4%) reported physical activity levels were much less or somewhat less compared to levels before the pandemic, and this was more pronounced in urban areas vs. rural areas (55.3% vs. 44.4%). Participants engaged in preventive behaviors including wearing a face mask (93.2%). A total of 18.9% reported testing for SARS-CoV-2, among whom 3.5% (n=311) reported testing positive.

Conclusions: In this nationwide survey of older US women, the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with impacts on health and well-being, living situations, lifestyle, health care access, and SARS-CoV-2 testing and preventive behaviors.

Keywords: cohort study; living arrangements; well-being.