Health & Community Leaders Talk: Dr. Paula Rochon
How research closes health gaps
By Dr. Paula Rochon, Senior Scientist, Women’s College Research Institute; Vice-President, Research, Women’s College Hospital; Professor, Department of Medicine and Institute of Health Policy, Management & Evaluation, University of Toronto; Senior Scientist, Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences
Health research is an opportunity to fill gaps in knowledge, helping us deliver efficient health care that meets patients’ needs. Women’s College Research Institute scientists are focused on closing the health gap between men and women.
Women often have different risk factors for disease, symptoms and treatment responses. But scientific studies do not always collect the information needed to reveal these differences. This data gap in health research has not gone unnoticed. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently pledged $80 million to close gender data gaps and help women and girls.
As a geriatrician, health services researcher and the Retired Teachers of Ontario Chair in Geriatric Medicine at the University of Toronto, I am particularly concerned about the data gap for older adults. Older people, particularly those of advanced age, are poorly represented in research — and women make up the bulk of the older population. More importantly, when they are included, information is not reported separately on women and men. As a result, we lack important data to help us tailor therapies to benefit women and men. As our population ages, it becomes even more important to understand how women and men differ, through gender-sensitive and equity-oriented analyses of older adults along various trajectories of healthy aging.
It is important to view aging beyond just the presence or absence of disease, but in terms of how we can optimize quality of life for older adults and maintain their health. For example, older adults are more likely to be taking multiple, sometimes conflicting drugs that could cause adverse reactions. In a recent study, we found than many Ontarians are prescribed both cholinesterase inhibitors for dementia and anticholinergic drugs, which have side-effects that cause confusion and undo the cognitive benefits of the dementia treatment. Increasingly, researchers are exploring ways to prevent problematic polypharmacy and de-prescribe potentially unnecessary drugs. This includes reducing the number of unnecessarily prescribed anti-psychotic drugs, which increase the risk of falls and hospitalizations that are costly to the health system and most important to older people.
Research that finds solutions to these challenging problems prevent problems from developing and can help Ontarians live long, healthy lives with independence. They can also make our health system more efficient and cost-effective.
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