The Role of Primary Care Providers in Encouraging Older Patients to Change Their Lifestyle Behaviors

Clin Gerontol. 2018 Jul-Sep;41(4):326-334. doi: 10.1080/07317115.2017.1376029. Epub 2017 Dec 8.


Objectives: This study sought to identify older patients' perceptions of primary care providers' influence on their likelihood of improving diet and physical activity.

Methods: 104 adults ages 65 and older were interviewed immediately following a routine primary care visit about their plans and motivations for behavior change and how their clinic visit would influence their likelihood of making lifestyle changes. All interviews were recorded, transcribed and analyzed using a constant comparison approach.

Results: Participants reported that their providers influence their health behaviors by developing strong relationships, addressing concerns and encouraging change, and providing concrete instruction. When providers did not discuss diet or physical activity, or mentioned these topics only briefly, participants often perceived the message that they should continue their current behaviors.

Conclusions: Whether and how diet and physical activity are discussed in primary care influences the likelihood that older adults will make changes in these behaviors.

Clinical implications: These findings highlight the need for a patient-centered counseling approach and caution providers to think twice before omitting discussion of the need for lifestyle change.

Keywords: Health behavior; lifestyle change; older adults; primary care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Diet Therapy / methods
  • Diet Therapy / psychology*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Frail Elderly / psychology
  • Health Behavior / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Perception / physiology
  • Physician-Patient Relations / ethics
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Tape Recording / methods