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Home About Us Press Room Archived Press Releases 2012 Press Releases Seniors with Serious Illness Find Smoking, Drinking Tough Habits to Break

For Immediate Release
July 31, 2012

Contact: Todd Kluss
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(202) 587-2839

Seniors with Serious Illness Find Smoking, Drinking Tough Habits to Break

A recent study of adults age 50 to 85 found that only 19 percent of those diagnosed with lung disease quit smoking within two years. Furthermore, the research showed that the vast majority of older adults who learn they have a chronic condition do not adopt healthier behaviors, according to data presented in the Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.

The statistics come from the Health and Retirement Study, an ongoing survey of over 11,000 Americans aged 50 or older that began in 1992. For the new journal article, a research team led by Jason T. Newsom, PhD, at Portland State University sought to determine to what degree these adults modified their smoking, drinking, and exercise behaviors after the diagnosis of heart disease, cancer, stroke, respiratory disease, and diabetes.

“Even after an illness has occurred, change in behavior is critical for improving quality of life, reducing risk of recurrence or complications, and extending life,” Newsom said. “Quitting smoking after a heart attack, for example, cuts risk of a second heart attack in half.”

The largest observed change in behavior was among those who were diagnosed with heart disease, which led 40 percent of smokers to quit. For every disease, smokers decreased the number of cigarettes consumed per day, but only 19 percent of those suffering from lung disease quit.

There were no significant improvements in the percentage reporting regular vigorous exercise (at least three times per week) following the diagnosis of any chronic condition. In fact, the percentage exercising declined significantly for those with cancer, lung disease, and stroke — although this may be due to the physical limitations that can be associated with those conditions.

Changes in alcohol consumption were small, although among those who were currently drinking, those with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, and lung disease significantly decreased their average number of daily drinks.

Additionally, there were few significant and consistent socio-demographic changes after diagnosis. Women and younger participants were somewhat more likely to decrease exercise and alcohol use. Higher education was associated with smoking cessation, increased exercise, and decreased alcohol consumption.

This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging.

“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 state.

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The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences is a refereed publication of The Gerontological Society of America (GSA), the nation's oldest and largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to research, education, and practice in the field of aging. The principal mission of the Society — and its 5,400+ members — is to advance the study of aging and disseminate information among scientists, decision makers, and the general public. GSA’s structure also includes a policy institute, the National Academy on an Aging Society, and an educational branch, the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education.

Click here for a printable PDF version of this press release.

Mildred M. Seltzer Distinguished Service Recognition

Presented to C. Joanne Grabinski, PhD, Eastern Michigan University, and Mary Alice Wolf, PhD, Saint Joseph University.

This award honors colleagues who are near retirement or recently retired. Recipients are individuals who have been actively involved in AGHE through service on committees, as elected officers, and/or have provided leadership in one of AGHE’s grant-funded projects.

Administrative Leadership Award

Presented to Tammy M. Bray, PhD, Oregon State University

This award honors administrators on AGHE member campuses who have made exceptional efforts in support of gerontology or geriatrics education.

David A. Peterson Gerontology & Geriatrics Education Best Paper of the Volume Award

Presented to Nina M. Silverstein, PhD, University of Massachusetts Boston; Elizabeth Johns, MS, University of Massachusetts Boston; and Judith A. Griffin, MA, MS, University of Massachusetts Boston, for the article “Students Explore Livable Communities.” Honorable mention is given to Emily J. Robbins, MS, Miami University; Jennifer M. Kinney, PhD, Miami University; and Cary S. Kart, PhD, Miami University, for the article “Promoting Active Engagement in Health Research: Lessons Learned from an Undergraduate Gerontology Capstone Course.”

The purpose of this award is to recognize excellence in scholarship in academic gerontology in AGHE’s official journal, Gerontology & Geriatrics Education.

Graduate Student Paper Award

Presented to Deborah Gray, MBA, University of Massachusetts Boston, for the paper “Weight and Wealth: The Relationship between Obesity and Net Worth for Pre-Retirement Age Men and Women.”

This award acknowledges excellence in scholarly work conducted by an AGHE Annual Meeting student attendee.

Book Award for Best Children’s Literature on Aging

Presented to Caitlin Dale Nicholson and Leona Morinn-Nelson for “Niwechihaw/I help” in the primary reader (pre-K to 2nd grade) category, and Ann Grifalconi and Jerry Pickney for “Ain’t Nobody A Stranger to Me” in the elementary reader (3rd to 5th grade) category.

This award recognizes portrayals of meaningful aging in children’s literature.