Tenacious Self-Reliance in Health Maintenance May Jeopardize Late Life Survival

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Although an active pursuit of health goals is typically adaptive, there may be circumstances in very late life when it is not. Our 10-year study of community-dwelling individuals (n = 220, 79–98 years-old) examined whether investing substantial effort into personal health (high selective primary control) in the absence of help-seeking strategies (low compensatory primary control) jeopardized survival for very old adults who varied in functional independence (low, high). Cox proportional hazard models showed selective primary control (SPC) predicted 10-year mortality risk for only those with low compensatory primary control (CPC) and high initial functional independence. For these individuals, each standard deviation increase in SPC predicted a 101% higher risk of death. Results are consistent with the lines-of-defense model (Heckhausen et al., 2013) and suggest that, for very old adults with little previous need for help-seeking strategies, tenacious self-reliance (high SPC, low CPC) may have life-shortening consequences.

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