May 30, 2009

Seniors Living With Spouses Likelier To Seek Health Care

A new report indicates that elderly men and women who live with their spouse are more inclined to take preventative health measures than those who live alone or with an adult child.

However, according to Drs. Denys Lau of Northwestern University in Chicago and James Kirby from the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, "colorectal cancer screening, routine dental check-up, and influenza vaccination remain well below national targets according to the Centers for Disease Control's Healthy People 2010."

Their study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, throws a spotlight on the issue of low use of healthcare screening services by the nation's elderly.

Lau also told reporters that their study suggests that "healthcare providers should not assume that elderly patients living with their adult offspring will have adequate family resources to obtain preventive services."

The research team analyzed statics on healthcare expenditures from 2002 to 2005 for 13,038 community-dwelling men and women ages 65 and over.

Of the subjects examined, 94 percent of them reported that they required assistance for at least one of their daily activities.  In addition, three-quarters stated that they had at least one major chronic health problem such as high blood pressure, history of heart disease, diabetes, asthma or angina.

Just over half of the subjects reported living with their spouse, while 38 percent lived alone, 5 percent an adult child, and 5 percent lived with both spouse and offspring.

The 52 percent who lived only with their spouse showed a significantly higher likelihood of going for regular influenza vaccinations, cholesterol screenings, colorectal cancer screenings, general physical check-ups and dental care compared with those in other living arrangements.

Screenings for high blood pressure did not vary across the different types of living arrangements.

The study also noted that the employment and disability status of the adult offspring gave no clues as to why living with their children appeared to offer "no benefits to elderly persons in terms of accessing timely preventive care," according to Dr. Lau.

Lau and Kirby have already recommended follow-up investigations to examine what factors might be deterring the elderly from seeking preventive health care and the potential benefits of community healthcare education for the elderly.


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