Aging and health: effects of the sense of control

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Science  19 Sep 1986:
Vol. 233, Issue 4770, pp. 1271-1276
DOI: 10.1126/science.3749877


The relation between health and a sense of control may grow stronger in old age. This could occur through three types of processes: experiences particularly relevant to control may increase markedly in old age; the association between control and some aspect of health may be altered by age; and age may influence the association between control and health-related behaviors or the seeking of medical care. Studies show that there are detrimental effects on the health of older people when their control of their activities is restricted; in contrast, interventions that enhance options for control by nursing home patients promote health. With increasing age, however, variability in preferred amounts of control also increases, and sometimes greater control over activities, circumstances, or health has negative consequences including stress, worry, and self-blame. Mechanisms mediating the control-health relation include feelings of stress, symptom labeling, changes in the neuroendocrine and immune systems, and behavior relevant to health maintenance.

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