Beliefs about aging and illness in a community sample

Authors

  • Dr. Mary L. Keller,

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    • School of Nursing, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 600 Highland Avenue, Madison, WI 53792
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    • Mary L. Keller, PhD, RN, is an assistant professor in the School of Nursing, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

  • Howard Leventhal,

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    • Howard Leventhal, PhD, is Research Professor of Psychology at the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

  • Thomas R. Prohaska,

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    • Thomas R. Prohaska, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago.

  • Elaine A. Leventhal

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    • Elaine A. Leventhal, PhD, MD, is an associate professor in the Department of Medicine, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine, New Brunswick, New Jersey.


Abstract

Findings from recent studies have demonstrated age group differences in coping with illness. One explanation for these age group differences has received little attention: perceptions of illness may differ with age and these differences in perception may account for the observed differences in coping. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of age on illness perceptions along dimensions that influence coping. Specifically, we explored perceptions about aging as a cause of illness and perceptions about the effect of age on seriousness, curability and controllability of illness. Four hundred fifty-one community-dwelling adults (age range 20 to 90 years) participated in the study. The pattern of results showed respondents of all ages expressing the belief that aging is associated with increased susceptibility to disease and lowered potential for control or cure. Implications of these beliefs for health monitoring and coping with illness are discussed.

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