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Nursing home use associated with certain personality traits

September 26, 2013
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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Older adults scoring high in neuroticism on a personality test were more than twice as likely to spend time in a nursing home for long-term care as those who scored low on that personality trait, and users of care who scored low in the personality trait of openness to experience spent more days in nursing homes that provide long-term care, according to recently published research.

“These finding have a range of potential implications in terms of how clinicians and health systems deliver patient-centered care,” says lead author Bruce Friedman, MPH, PhD, of the University of Rochester in New York. “Customizing interventions to a person’s personality profile could be one of the keys to ensuring the appropriate use of health services and containing the continuing rise in healthcare costs.” Results were published in The Milbank Quarterly.

The study used data collected from 1,074 individuals aged more than 65 years. Participants were from upstate New York, West Virginia and Ohio and were deemed likely to be high-cost patients. 

Study participants completed a questionnaire that ultimately assigned a score for each of five major personality traits: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness. The researchers then looked at logs kept by study participants to see which healthcare services they used over a two-year period. The study focused on seven high-cost healthcare services, including skilled nursing home care, custodial nursing home care, home-based skilled nurse and therapist care, and home-based custodial care.

People scoring on the high end of the neuroticism scale tend to be more likely to feel angry, anxious, depressed or vulnerable. Those with high scores in openness to experience are generally more intellectually curious, imaginative and creative.

The study was supported with funded from the National Institute on Aging and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

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