Seniors Unlikely to Change

Chronic illness later in life rarely sparks healthy lifestyle changes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Healthy lifestyle changes after being diagnosed with a serious illness can improve quality of life. But, people over 50 are more prone to keep doing the same old thing.

A recent study evaluated over 11,000 people diagnosed with chronic illnesses. Very few people made healthy lifestyle changes to help improve their illness.

"Quit smoking and exercise - you’ll feel better!"

Jason T. Newsom, PhD, associate professor at the Institute of Aging and School of Community Health at Portland State University in Oregon, led an investigation into how well seniors took care of themselves after being diagnosed with a chronic illness.

For the study, researchers looked at data from the U.S. Health and Retirement Study, which began surveying over 11,000 Americans at least 50 years of age in 1992, and followed participants for 2-14 years.

Dr. Newsom’s research team sought out information on whether people changed unhealthy behaviors after being diagnosed with a chronic illness.

Specifically, the study looked at seniors diagnosed with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke or lung disease.

Results showed that most people did not change their unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, after being diagnosed.

Only 40 percent of smokers diagnosed with heart disease quit smoking. And that was the greatest change in the entire group.

Only 19 percent of smokers diagnosed with lung disease quit smoking.

It appeared almost no one started exercising to improve their health.

Excessive drinking did decline, but quitting drinking altogether was rarely reported.

Participants with more education were more likely to exercise, quit smoking and less drinking.

Dr. Newsom said, “Even after an illness has occurred, change in behavior is critical for improving quality of life, reducing risk of recurrence or complications and extending life.”

“Quitting smoking after a heart attack, for example, cuts risk of a second heart attack in half.”

Authors suggested that this information could help health care professionals design new approaches to get these groups to make positive health changes.

This study was published in October 2011, in the Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences. Funding for this study was provided by a grant from the National Institute on Aging, no conflicts of interest were found. 

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Review Date: 
August 9, 2012
Last Updated:
August 12, 2012