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Seniors won’t kick the habit even after chronic disease diagnoses

August 10, 2012
by pamela tabar
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Even after being diagnosed with a chronic illness, most seniors still won’t give up unhealthy habits, according to a recent report published in the Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social sciences.

The report studied longitudinal data on more than 11,000 U.S. seniors gathered since 1992 by the Health and Retirement Study.

A research team at Portland State University examined the data to see how willing seniors were to change their lifestyle habits once they had developed heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

  • Seniors diagnosed with heart disease showed the most willingness to stop smoking—but only 40 percent did so.
  • 81 percent of senior smokers diagnosed with lung disease continued to smoke for at least another two years.
  • Older seniors, especially men, were the least likely to give up alcohol and increase exercise.
  • Seniors who did make healthy changes to their lifestyles tended to stick to those changes.

The upcoming baby boomers may be a more willing generation to adopt healthier habits and give up detrimental one such as smoking and excessive alcohol use, the data suggests.

For now, more aggressive efforts are needed in senior living environments to encourage seniors to make changes in their lives and maintain a healthier lifestyle.

“The results provide important new information on health behavior changes among those with chronic disease and suggest that intensive efforts are required to help initiate and maintain lifestyle improvements among this population,” the authors conclude.

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