Purpose in life has been linked with better health (mental and physical) and health behaviors, but its link with patterns of health care use are understudied. We hypothesized that people with higher purpose would be more proactive in taking care of their health, as indicated by a higher likelihood of using preventive health care services. We also hypothesized that people with higher purpose would spend fewer nights in the hospital. Participants (n = 7,168) were drawn from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative panel study of American adults over the age of 50, and tracked for 6 y. After adjusting for sociodemographic factors, each unit increase in purpose (on a six-point scale) was associated with a higher likelihood that people would obtain a cholesterol test [odds ratio (OR) = 1.18, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.08–1.29] or colonoscopy (OR = 1.06, 95% CI = 0.99–1.14). Furthermore, females were more likely to receive a mammogram/X-ray (OR = 1.27, 95% CI = 1.16–1.39) or pap smear (OR = 1.16, 95% CI = 1.06–1.28), and males were more likely to receive a prostate examination (OR = 1.31, 95% CI = 1.18–1.45). Each unit increase in purpose was also associated with 17% fewer nights spent in the hospital (rate ratio = 0.83, 95% CI = 0.77–0.89). An increasing number of randomized controlled trials show that purpose in life can be raised. Therefore, with additional research, findings from this study may inform the development of new strategies that increase the use of preventive health care services, offset the burden of rising health care costs, and enhance the quality of life among people moving into the ranks of our aging society.
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