Does older mean flexible? Psychological flexibility and illness cognitions in chronic medical conditions - the moderating effect of age

Gil Zukerman, Maya Maor, Tamar Reichard, Shulamit Ben-Itzhak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Adjustment to a Chronic Medical Condition (CMC) is associated with developing hypotheses regarding one’s symptoms, known as illness cognition (IC). Aging is associated with a higher rate of CMC. We assessed the effects of aging and psychological flexibility (PF)-one’s ability to be open to change, and to alter or persist in behaviors according to environmental circumstances–on IC development in CMC. In a cross-sectional study of hospitalized patients with CMC, 192 patients in four age groups: younger (<50), midlife (50–59), young old (60–69), and elderly (≥70) completed questionnaires sampling IC, PF and demographics. Younger participants reported less helplessness (IC) while lower scores in one PF component (perceiving reality as multifaceted) were reported by the elderly (≥70); older age was associated with a more fixed, narrow perception of reality. Both effects remained significant when using the medical condition severity as a covariate. In general, age was positively associated with IC of acceptance and Helplessness. In regression analysis, CMC severity significantly predicted all IC. Moreover, the interaction of age and perceiving reality as dynamic and changing (PF-RDC component) significantly predicted IC- acceptance of illness; follow-up analysis revealed significant correlations between PF-RDC and acceptance only for younger patients (< age 50). PF-RDC also significantly predicted IC–perceived benefit; among the entire sample higher RDC was associated with less IC–perceived benefit. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1844-1860
Number of pages17
JournalPsychology, Health and Medicine
Volume28
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - 2023

Keywords

  • Aging
  • chronic medical conditions
  • illness cognition
  • psychological flexibility

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