Eldercare Voices: Marking Older Americans Month: A Conversation With Byllye Avery on the Health Challenges Older Black Women Face
Black Women’s Health Imperative, the only national organization dedicated solely to improving the health and well-being of the nation’s 21 million Black women and girls. Lois Uttley, director of Community Catalyst’s Women’s Health Program, did just that, interviewing Ms. Avery for this column.
Ms. Avery, who is now 81 years old, draws on a lifetime of experiences to describe the systemic health challenges facing older Black women. A major problem, she says, is cardiovascular disease, “largely due to the stresses that Black women face” throughout their lives from racism, sexism and other social determinants of health. “Black women get it from everyone on all sides.”
Diabetes is another major health issue, she says, noting that too many Black women, including those who are older, are obese. “When I come home from that job that is killing me, food becomes medicine,” she explains. “We self-medicate with food.” The Black Women’s Health Imperative has strong programs addressing diabetes for this reason.
Another stressor occurs when Black families are struck by opioid addiction, Avery said, and a lot of the impact falls on grandmothers. “You have to start taking care of a three- or four-year-old,” she explains. “That has been the reality for a lot of grandmothers that makes their older years not so golden.”
Economic disadvantages throughout life also mean that many Black women enter old age without sufficient financial resources, Avery says. “Most of us never earn the money that we could earn to be financially stable,” she explains, citing low-paying jobs, often without benefits. “We go into our senior years without being able to stash money away. Few of us are taught how to handle the money we do have.”