Sign Up for
ElderWise� Info
Receive FREE email tips on health, housing and relationships for  you, your family and your workplace.

You'll also receive  notices about upcoming events, new products and services, special offers, and new happenings at our site.

Please make sure all fields are filled in.

First Name:
Last Name:

Unsubscribe instructions are included in each issue.

We respect your privacy


Senior Women in 
Intensive Care Units

A recent Canadian study highlights a startling and dangerous gender bias regarding patient treatment in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).  Among the findings:

  • Women over the age of 50 are 32% less likely to be admitted to the ICU
  • Women are 1.2 times more likely to die while in the ICU than men
  • Women are less likely to receive the full range of available treatments while in the ICU
  • The older the patient, the greater the differences in treatment between men and women

Why is this happening?

Many factors could be influencing why this is happening to Canadian women. Some researchers say that not enough is known about how women react to the drugs and treatments that are in current use.  The bias is still towards testing drugs - especially cardiac drugs - on more men than women. 

Dr. Nancy Baxter, who was not involved with the study, suggests that women are comfortable being caregivers and advocates for their family, but less likely to be vocal advocates for themselves.

Dr. Robert Fowler, author of the study, also suggests that the way family and staff view the patient may affect treatment.  In many cases, they will describe senior women as "frail" and senior men as "fighters".

 "You don't hear 'frail' and 'man' in the same sentence nearly as much," Dr. Fowler said in an interview with The Ottawa Citizen. This view may mean that family ask the physician to "do everything possible" for their fathers and grandfathers, yet not want their mother or grandmother to be treated too aggressively.  This may also lead the medical team to treat women more conservatively, but provide men with more aggressive treatments.

What can you do?

  • Know in advance of a crisis what your loved one wants in terms of treatment. Talk to your parents or seniors in your life about the kinds of medical interventions and treatments they will accept.
  • Learn more about health care directives ElderWise Info - Living Wills: Not Just For Seniors
  • Ask your parents some difficult but specific questions, such as:
    • Do you want to be put on a breathing machine?
    • Do you want aggressive drug treatment even if there are possible side effects?
    • Are there treatments you do not want?
  • If your parent has been admitted to hospital, ask health professionals to explain
    • The most likely diagnosis
    • Possible treatments, including intensive care options
    • The outcome if treatment is not given
  • Consult a geriatric specialist. Explore whether age or gender could be influencing treatment decisions.

Being aware of a possible bias between genders may help you explore and evaluate your options when facing critical decisions in the Intensive Care Unit.

Vol. 4, No. 2
� ElderWise Publishing 2008.
You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement:

"Originally published by ElderWise Publishing, a division of ElderWise Inc., Canada's "go to" place for families with aging parents, who want clear, concise and timely information about health, housing and relationships. Visit us at and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter.





Back to Newsletter Archives

Have you read our recent issues of ElderWise Info?

Visit our Newsletter Page and read:

Help Aging Parents Relocate  

Talking to Parents About Finances

Long-Distance Caregiving 

Home Care for Seniors

and other recent issues ., Just click on the Newsletter menu item to the left. 

Sign up for our FREE e-NEWSLETTER using the subsciption box on the left side of this page.

Copyright 2005-2009 ElderWise Inc. ElderWise� is a Registered Trademark of ElderWise Inc., Calgary, Alberta, Canada. | Privacy | Disclaimer