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What is the role of primary care providers in encouraging healthy behaviors and lifestyle change in older patients?

Shani BardachA new study from the University of Kentucky College of Public Health seeks to identify older patients’ perceptions of primary care providers’ influence on their likelihood of improving diet and physical activity. Results of the investigation were published online December 8, 2017, in the journal Clinical Gerontologist. The authors are Dr. Shoshana H. Bardach, research assistant professor in the UK College of Public Health Graduate Center for Gerontology, and Dr. Nancy Schoenberg, professor in the UK College of Medicine and prior associate dean for research in the UK College of Public Health. Dr. Bardach is also a researcher at the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.

Research participants included 104 adults ages 65 and older, who were interviewed immediately following a routine primary care visit about their plans and motivations for behavior change and how their clinic visit would influence their likelihood of making lifestyle changes. All interviews were recorded, transcribed and analyzed using a constant comparison approach.

Participants reported that their providers influence their health behaviors by developing strong relationships, addressing concerns and encouraging change, and providing concrete instruction. When providers did not discuss diet or physical activity, or mentioned these topics only briefly, participants often perceived the message that they should continue their current behaviors.

The authors conclude that whether and how diet and physical activity are discussed in primary care influences the likelihood that older adults will make changes in these behaviors. They further note that these findings highlight the need for a patient-centered counseling approach and caution providers to think twice before omitting discussion of the need for lifestyle change.