Women over 50 who reported being more comfortable with aging received mammograms, x-rays or pap smears with greater frequency than those who were less satisfied with aging.
Experts know that older people are less likely to use preventive health services than younger or middle-age adults. Take-up of cancer screenings, flu shots, mammograms and pap smears are below recommended levels among seniors.
For core preventive services, less than 50% of people over the age of 65 and less than 30% of people in the age 50-64 group are up to date.
Previous research has shown that increasing the uptake and expanding the delivery of affordable preventive services would reduce mortality among older people.
However, some studies have associated fatalistic beliefs about cancer, skepticism over the benefits of screening, personal perceptions of low risk and fear of vaccination with older people.
For preventive health services to be successful among seniors, therefore, policy makers and health care providers need to identify and engage with the personal beliefs and attitudes of the over-50s.
The University of Michigan team analyzed data from 6,177 participants in the 2008 Health and Retirement Study (HRS). The HRS is a nationally representative biennial panel study of Americans over the age of 50.
Participants were interviewed in person and their waist size and blood pressure were measured as part of a physical assessment. Each participant answered questions about their use of preventive health services.
The researchers found that participants who reported higher satisfaction with aging were more likely to have a cholesterol test and colonoscopy over time.
Women over 50 who reported being more comfortable with aging received mammograms, X-rays or pap smears with greater frequency than those who were less satisfied with aging. Men who were more satisfied with life made more appointments to get prostate exams.
Take-up of all preventive medicines - but one - improved with aging satisfaction
However, the team found that take-up of one area of preventive medicine - the flu shot - did not improve based on aging satisfaction.
"We are unsure of why aging satisfaction was not associated with flu shots," write the researchers, who note that previous studies have found attitudes, beliefs and social networks all factor in the uptake of flu vaccine by seniors. However, these factors were not taken into account in this study.
"The association between aging satisfaction and use of preventive services by older adults might be explained by people's general beliefs about the aging process," conclude the team, as some seniors feel that health problems are "inevitable" as they get older. They write:
"Prior research shows that older adults who believe that health problems are inevitable in older age are less likely to engage in preventive health behaviors or to believe that seeking preventive care is important.
Studies also find that people who attribute having had a heart attack or stroke to their age, as opposed to lifestyle choices, are less likely to make lifestyle changes after the event. If older adults with lower aging satisfaction believe that physical and mental declines typify old age, they may be less likely to believe that lifestyle changes will make a difference, and consequently, may be less likely to seek preventive care."