Three in four older Americans say they eat the right foods, exercise regularly and go for health screenings. But there are marked differences between men and women, and between midlife and older adults, when asked more specifically about leading a healthy lifestyle, according to an AARP Bulletin poll on patient responsibility.
Overall, people age 65 and older (81 percent) were more likely to say they live in a healthy manner compared with those ages 50 to 64 (74 percent), the poll of 1,014 adults age 50-plus found. But women apparently did a better job of heeding their doctors' recommendations for screenings — 82 percent had a mammogram in the last five years, but only 69 percent of men had a prostate exam.
Both sexes were somewhat remiss in getting a colonoscopy, among the most important screenings for colon cancer. Only 49 percent of respondents said they'd had one in the last five years. But older adults were more likely than younger ones to have had a colonoscopy (54 percent versus 45 percent).
Gloria Delroy, 87, is not among the older adults who's had the exam. The retired singer from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., says she has "lived this long, so why bother" with a colonoscopy.
"What's the purpose of having one at this point in my life?" she says. "It's only quite recently that the importance of a colonoscopy has been brought to the forefront of people's thinking. I don't think there was much said about it" some 37 years ago, when she was turning 50, the recommended age to start getting the exam. "I'm healthy. I eat a lot of green vegetables and fruit, and I get a lot of sleep."
Collaborating to better health
Most of those polled said they had their vision (86 percent) and hearing (55 percent) tested as an adult. Men (66 percent) were more likely than women (46 percent) to report getting a hearing test. Among all groups, 44 percent said they had compiled a family health history.
Collaboration between physicians and patients was considered important. Most people (91 percent) polled said they believed that decisions about medical treatment should be made by doctor and patient.
When asked how closely they followed their doctor's advice or treatment recommendations such as taking medication, 43 percent said very closely, 34 percent said extremely closely and 16 percent said somewhat closely. Three percent said treatment decisions were the sole responsibility of the physician.
"Doctors should discuss treatment options with their patients," says Charlotte Cole, 70, a retired nurse from Mount Vernon, Mo. "There are some treatments that are severe that people don't want, and there could be alternatives" to investigate.
Though information on medical problems is more widely available than ever, respondents 65-plus (56 percent) were more likely than those 50 to 64 (43 percent) to say they hadn't researched their symptoms before visiting the doctor, the poll found.
Likewise, older people (63 percent) looked to their physicians for most of their health information compared with younger respondents (49 percent). But Arnold Adelberg, 75, a retired math professor from Grinnell, Iowa, says he turns to a different source for trusted information on health issues and medicine — his encyclopedia.
Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.