According to Ohio State University, for baby boomers, the peak interest in health issues comes at about age 51, with a second peak coming near age 65.
The study, based on a survey of Americans age 45 to 65, showed that people in their late 40s had the lowest levels of interest in health issues. Interest rose quickly, however, and peaked in the early 50s, then dropped slightly and plateaued during the rest of the 50s and early 60s. Another rise in interest occurred near age 65.
Researchers say that the results may help doctors and other professionals target this generation with health messages at a time when they are most receptive to hearing them.
This is the first study to find health-related "change points" during the lifespan when people perceive health needs to be more important than at other times, said John Dimmick, lead author of the study and emeritus associate professor of communication at Ohio State University. "The early 50s are clearly a key change point for the baby boomers we studied," Price said.
The researchers suspect interest in health peaks in the early 50s because of what doctors and the media tell people reaching that age. "Fifty is the age Americans are told they need to undergo a variety of health screenings," Dimmick said. For example, people are often told that they should get a colonoscopy, mammogram and -- until recently -- a PSA test for prostate cancer when they turn 50. "People start really paying attention to their health when they are encouraged to get all of these various screening tests."
The study was conducted to better target media health campaigns to boomers as well as to assist medical professionals to better target health information to this generation. The study involved 477 respondents from across the country who completed an online questionnaire. Respondents rated how important they thought each of 18 health issues were to them on a seven-point scale from "not at all important" to "very important." The health issues included diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and nutrition and weight management.
Dimmick noted that the change points were not affected by gender, media use or how respondents rated their own health. While 51 was when health interest was at its highest, another peak came near age 65, the study found. That peak probably comes as baby boomers are contemplating retirement. "We do a lot of health screenings at age 50 and prepare for retirement at age 65 and that seems to drive a lot of the interest in health issues at those ages, Dimmick said."
Overall, the respondents reported that health professionals were their number one source of health information, with the media -- particularly the internet -- coming in second. Of the 18 health issues included in the study, seven were rated relatively high in importance by the respondents: eyes, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, nutrition/weight management, arthritis, and high blood pressure.
Boomers rated the other 11 health issues as relatively less important: Parkinson's disease, blood poisoning, flu, dementia/Alzheimer's, respiratory disease, hearing problems, mental health, brain disease, pneumonia, kidney disease, and liver disease.
Interesting but understandable that dementia and Alzheimer's were noted as less important after all at these age points people do not consider themselves old or seemingly worry about these issues unless maybe they are in a caregiving role. That is a teachable moment for long term care professionals. If the promise of the medical home is fulfilled, physicians will start to have different conversations with patients. These conversations will not just be about episodic health but about a person's whole well-being. So start identifying and working with progressive primary care docs to position the messages people need to hear about aging.
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