"Is it half full or half empty?" affective responses to chronic illness

Myrna Silverman, Jean Nutini, Donald Musa, Nancy E. Schoenberg, Steven M. Albert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Using a combined qualitative/quantitative approach, we interviewed 132 older African-Americans and whites with either osteoarthritis of the hip or knee (OAK/OAH) or ischemic heart disease (IHD) to address two questions: 1) What types of reactions to illness are expressed by this group of older adults who have OA or IHD? 2)? Are there differences in the characteristics of the respondents who respond more positively than those who respond more negatively? The responses were coded to illustrate those that reflected positive, negative, or combined (positive/negative) statements. The majority of the respondents, who were categorized as positive or combined, approached the illness experience with statements illustrating their ability to cope with their illness and adapt their lifestyles to the limitations imposed by the disease such as acceptance, feeling that others were worse off, or changing their lifestyles to adapt to their limitations. Those expressing negative reactions to their illness were fewer in number and responded with terms reflecting loss of identity, physical limitations, and other disease symptoms. The differences were more pronounced between the positive and negative groups where the latter were somewhat more likely to be African-American and female and significantly more likely to have less income, greater perceived disease severity, and more disability. We should look to the larger group in both the positive only and combined responses to explore how culture may play a role in perceptions of subjective well-being and the importance of "the local worlds of experience" experienced by both men and women, and African-Americans and whites. This study illustrates that using a simple, open-ended question that stimulates older people to narrate their reactions to having a chronic illness may allow clinicians to identify the persons most at-risk and intervene appropriately.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-306
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2009


  • African-Americans
  • Chronic illness
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Qualitative/Quantitative research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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