Aging Versus Disease

Current Health Perceptions Among the Elderly

by Sharon B. Arnold

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Societal stereotypes may play an important role in influencing self-perceptions of health at different stages of life. This Note examines differences in current health perceptions among age groups in three samples: a general patient sample of persons visiting their physicians, a subset who report no chronic disease, and a sample of persons with chronic disease. Most, if not all, of the age-related decline in current health perceptions is due to disease. In fact, older persons reported significantly better health perceptions after controlling for disease severity in the chronic-disease sample. Analyses of longitudinal data support the hypothesis that older persons lower their expectations regarding their health, which means they have more optimistic perceptions of health than younger persons after controlling for disease. The increase in perceptions of health observed in the elderly may have important implications for health services use and health behavior among the elderly. The possible link between negative stereotypes of aging and lowered expectations of health suggests an opportunity for educational interventions.

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