How well can we assess our own health? A large-scale study among Europeans shows that especially people over 80 have a wrong idea of their physical and mental condition.
Older people are often wrong in their assessment of their own health.
Researchers who study the health of large groups of people often use questionnaires or interviews. Every so often, participants indicate how they rate various aspects of their health, for example with a grade on a scale of one to five. Ideally, researchers would like to come and see for themselves how the participants are doing, by taking blood samples and using tests to measure lung capacity, muscle strength and memory. But they don’t have the time or money with the medical world
How reliable is the data that people enter themselves? Health economist Sonja Spitzer of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria and her colleague Daniela Weber compared the self-completed answers of a large group of Europeans with actual test results. Some groups of people, such as the elderly, are more likely to give answers that are incorrect, they write this month in PLoS ONE.
Mobility and memory
For the analysis, the researchers used data from 19 European countries, taken from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe. This survey, which began in 2004, collected both questionnaire responses and test results from tens of thousands of people aged 50 or older over the years. Both self-completed data and test results were available for two health aspects: mobility (dexterity) and memory and pharma product reasons,
In the mobility test, 88 thousand people were asked to stand up from a chair with their arms crossed over their chest, after first indicating themselves how difficult they found it to get out of the chair. In a memory test 115 thousand participants were asked to remember as many words as possible from a list of ten words. They had previously rated their memory themselves with a mark between 1 (very good) and 5 (very bad).