Objective: To describe the attitudes toward and practice of health prevention and advance planning measures by a group of community-dwelling older adults and to examine the effect of age on these practices.
Design: A descriptive study performed by mail survey.
Participants: Members of a research registry who were 65 years of age or older.
Measurements: By means of a written questionnaire, we asked about knowledge of various health prevention and advance planning topics, including exercise, cholesterol screening, rectal examination, influenza vaccination, sigmoidoscopy, mammography, prostate cancer screening, organ donation, autopsy, health care proxy, and advance directives. Of those who knew about the topic, we asked if the respondent had discussed it with a physician, who initiated the conversation, and if the respondent participated in the activity. We also asked how important the topic was to the respondent.
Results: We received 598 completed surveys, a response rate of 83%. Respondents had a mean age of 74 years, were predominately white (96%), and were well educated, with 44% having completed college. The respondents were all knowledgeable about the topics, and, with the exception of sigmoidoscopy, organ donation, and autopsy, more than 70% thought these topics were important. In the case of health screening and prevention activities, a large percentage of respondents reported having discussed the topic with a physician, and a slightly smaller percentage reported regular participation. In the case of health care proxies and advance directives, however, only about one-half of those who had made these arrangements said they had discussed them with a physician. When discussion did occur, it was much more likely to have been initiated by the respondent. Controlling for level of education, age was inversely associated with the likelihood of a woman reporting she had undergone mammography (P < .05). Age, however, was not associated with decreased frequency of undergoing other screening tests.
Conclusions: Among a group of well educated older adults, reported interest in and compliance with health screening, health promotion, and advance planning activities were high. However, sigmoidoscopy, a relatively more invasive procedure that is generally recommended as a screening tool, is reported less likely to be practiced than prostate cancer screening, a less invasive procedure without such recommendation. Older adults state they are pursuing health care proxies and advance directives, often without the involvement of their physicians. Of the screening tests about which we asked, age was associated only with less frequent practice of mammography.