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Stressful life events and use of physician services among the elderly: The moderating role of pet ownership

Stressful life events and use of physician services among the elderly: The moderating role of pet ownership,10.1037//0022-3514.58.6.1081,Journal of Pe

Stressful life events and use of physician services among the elderly: The moderating role of pet ownership   (Citations: 94)
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The physician utilization behavior of 938 Medicare enrollees in a health maintenance organiza- tion was prospectively followed for 1 year. With demographic characteristics and health status at baseline controlled for, respondents who owned pets reported fewer doctor contacts over the 1-year period than respondents who did not own pets. Furthermore, pets seemed to help their owners in times of stress. The accumulation of prebaseline stressful life events was associated with increased doctor contacts during the study year for respondents without pets. This relationship did not emerge for pet owners. Owners of dogs, in particular, were buffered from the impact of stressful life events on physician utilization. Additional analyses showed that dog owners in comparison to owners of other pets spent more time with their pets and felt that their pets were more important to them. Thus, dogs more than other pets provided their owners with companionship and an object of attachment. Current and projected demand by the elderly for health care services has prompted the study of their physician utilization behavior. These studies and others show that factors in addition to physical health status influence decisions to use medical services. Psychological distress, for example, has been posi- tively associated with the frequency of primary care physician visits among the general population (Barsky, Wyshak, & Kler- man, 1986; Regier, Goldberg, & Taube, 1979; Shuval, 1970; Tessler, Mechanic, & Dimond, 1976) and among the elderly (Waxman, Carner, & Blum, 1982). Stressful life events also con- tribute to higher utilization rates (Rahe & Arthur, 1978) be- cause stressful events are intertwined with psychological dis- tress and because persons undergoing stress pay greater atten- tion to bodily symptoms as well as find them more disturbing (Mechanic, 1972). One of the most distressing life events, death of a spouse, occurs with greatest frequency in older popula- tions. Major events, such as spousal loss, are frequently identi- fied as precipitating factors in loneliness (Perlman & Peplau, 1984), another potential determinant of physician utilization. In light of these notions, it is reasonable to hypothesize that circumstances that promote well-being or alleviate distress or both could reduce the need for physician contact. One such circumstance is pet ownership, as pets have been reported to
Journal: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology - PSP , vol. 58, no. 6, pp. 1081-1086, 1990
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