How gender affects living with traumatic spinal cord injuries

Although men and women who have suffered traumatic spinal cord injuries (SCIs) report comparable levels of psychological well-being, recent studies have found that older female SCI survivors experience aging differently from their male counterparts.

For example, older women with SCI have higher incidences of pain, depression, and suicide than men, and are less likely to hold a job and have access to preventive healthcare. In a new study, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s University Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR) hope to shed light on these discrepancies.

Headed by UCSUR Director Richard Schulz, a Pitt professor of psychiatry, the study is designed to provide information, resources, and support to older individuals with SCI and their caregivers. UCSUR’s study is one of the first aimed at providing a structured intervention for the growing number of caregivers of older SCI survivors, a group that has received little attention in the literature addressing the psychosocial issues of caregiving.

“For the first time in history, individuals who have sustained SCIs are living nearly as long as their non-injured counterparts, and life expectancy for those with SCI continues to increase,” said Schulz. “Though SCIs more often occur in younger people, the numbers of people age 60 and older at time of injury has doubled in the last decade. Many of the health problems faced by older people become more complicated when a spinal cord injury is present, and this can increase the burden on caregivers who may also be dealing with their own aging-related issues.”

Over the next two years, researchers at Pitt and the University of Miami will collect data on participants’ physical and mental health status, as well as the levels of physical, emotional, and practical support available to them. These factors will be examined relative to participants’ gender, age, health status, degree of functioning, access to healthcare services, and social network integrity. Meaningful relationships across these factors may help explain some of the different ways that men and women experience living with SCI into old age and could influence the development of interventions targeting their specific needs and situations.

The UCSUR study is funded by a $2.1 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research. The study is seeking to enroll individuals with adult-onset SCI-related disabilities who are at least 40 years of age and reside within a 50-mile radius of Pittsburgh. The study also seeks to enroll the caregivers who provide those individuals with primary physical or emotional support. For more information or to enroll in the study, contact Amy Lustig, study coordinator, at 412-624-2078 or at [email protected]

http://www.umc.pitt.edu

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