Baby Boomers hit midlife: If you snooze, you lose

Mature women expect providers to listen, teach

As women of the baby boom generation age, they will represent a burgeoning client base for your facility during the coming decade. Not only will the numbers of potential clients grow, their service needs also will increase. (See chart, p. 114.) Here are proven strategies for serving these often sophisticated and self-confident women, say experienced women’s health professionals.

Build a midlife women’s health program around a philosophy of exploring how they want to live the next 50 years of life instead of telling them what to do, suggests Susan Watkins, RNC, MSN, clinical nurse specialist in the women’s comprehensive care department of the Family Resource Center in Charleston (WV) Area Medical Center’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

"Women want to talk about their lives and how midlife changes affect them personally," she says. "I don’t tell them that taking hormones and exercising will give them back their 25-year-old waistlines. We talk about midlife as a transition of mind and body — a time to take everything that’s happened and integrate it into some kind of wisdom."

One sure way to turn a woman away is to disregard her reports of what’s going on with her body, Watkins warns. "Some women are experiencing menopausal changes as early as age 35," she contends, "If you say, ‘You’re too young for menopause — it’s all in your head,’ you’re discounting a real physiological process. Menopause doesn’t happen in a day or a week. It’s a process that can take 10 years."

Each client starts the midlife program by answering a computerized health risk assessment questionnaire administered by the medical center’s corporate health services department. Questions pertain to health factors including family history of breast cancer, dietary habits, and exercise levels. A lab work-up, also provided through corporate health services, shows glucose, triglyceride, and cholesterol levels. The upshot is a set of ratings for risk factors such as breast cancer, osteoporosis, and heart disease.

More than just medical care

In keeping with the program’s holistic objectives of physical and emotional well-being, clients spend 30 minutes each with a nutritionist and a psychologist. The discussions revolve around healthy eating and stress management. Then, Watkins wraps it up in an hour’s discussion of goals and plans for appropriate health objectives. "Our atmosphere is one of acceptance," she says.

Watkins explores with clients achievable activity goals such as climbing the stairs at work or parking at the far end of the grocery store lot.

The last component is a well-woman visit with the primary care physician. Watkins forwards the midlife program record prior to the appointment. The package costs $138.

As for hormone therapy, Watkins’ clients seem well-informed about the risks and bene-fits through the lay press. "Women are more interested in facts about what the pill will and won’t do for them personally," she notes. "As providers, we must give our clients information to make informed consent."

Middle-aged and older providers lend credibility to a program, Watkins says. "Women feel comfortable talking with a professional who can say ‘I’ve been there, too.’ When they lament the loss of their 25-year-old bodies, I ask them if they really want to have babies and raise little kids again." Most of them would rather keep their wisdom and accomplishments, Watkins says. "I try to help them appreciate who they are now and take responsibility for who they will become," she says.

The wellness program recently celebrated its first birthday with a plan to remodel certain pieces. While the content is strong and well-accepted, Watkins intends to revamp the marketing. The initial campaign, launched with help from the medical center’s marketing department, included 3,000 personal letters to 40- to 60-year-old women living in nearby zip codes. Marketing sorted the names from its extensive database of individuals who have visited the medical center as inpatients, outpatients, or attendees at educational programs. Additional publicity included newspaper ads, television spots, and introductory letters to physicians.

Better insurance coverage and the recently-acquired proximity to doctors’ offices will increase numbers, Watkins says; she has just moved the program to the building that houses the physicians specializing in women’s care. "This way, they can make an appointment with us for the same day they go to the doctor," she explains, "and they can do it all in one place."

Watkins also is approaching local health maintenance organizations about paying for the midlife wellness program under their health counseling and education provisions. "Women always ask if their insurance will pay for the program. "They won’t spend $138 on themselves when they could use it to pay another bill for the family."

If you want a woman to value a health experience, equate it to the cost of other goods and services. "If a midlife program costs $100 to $200 out of pocket, show her that’s about the same as a new dress, shoes, and dinner out," advises midlife program design consultant Catherine Garner, RN, DrPH, president of Innovative Health Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in the design and marketing of women’s midlife programs, in Tucson, AZ. "Convenience is another draw," she says. "Women are desperately busy with their jobs and families. They have to see that your service is accessible, or they won’t take a second look." ß