Self-Management of Wellness and Illness in an Aging Population

Tracy L. Mitzner, Sara E. McBride, Laura H. Barg-Walkow, Wendy A. Rogers

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


In this chapter, we review the last 10 years of literature on self-management of illnesses (acute/episodic and chronic) and wellness (e.g., health promotion). We focus on health self-management in the context of an aging population, wherein middle-aged adults are more likely to be managing wellness activities and older adults are often managing both maintenance of health and chronic illnesses. The critical issues related to self-management of health are discussed, including those imposed by health care demands and those stemming from individual differences in general abilities (e.g., motor, perception, cognition) and socioemotional characteristics. The dynamic relationship between theory and practice is highlighted. Health care demands reflect the nature of the illness or wellness activity and include managing comorbidities, symptoms, and medications; engaging in health promotion activities (e.g., exercise, diet); the required use of health technologies; the need for health-related information; and coordination of the care network. Individual differences in motor, perceptual, and cognitive abilities, as well as in the severity and complexity of the illness and the consequent demands, also impact how a person self-manages health. Cognitive abilities, such as decision making, knowledge, literacy (i.e., general, health, and e-health literacy), and numeracy are particularly implicated in the process of managing one's own health and are especially important in the context of an aging population; therefore we give these cognitive abilities special attention in this chapter. Socioemotional characteristics, and attitudes and beliefs about one's health, impact an individual's self-management of health as well, impacting his or her motivation and goal-setting behaviors. Moreover, we discuss literature on interventions that have been used to improve self-management of health, and we examine the potential for technology. We conclude with guidelines for technology design and instruction, and discuss emerging themes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-333
Number of pages57
JournalReviews of Human Factors and Ergonomics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • action planning
  • aging
  • behavioral control
  • care coordination
  • chronic disease
  • cognition
  • decision making
  • e-health literacy
  • goal setting
  • health literacy
  • health promotion
  • knowledge
  • literacy
  • locus of control
  • medication management
  • motivation
  • motor skills
  • numeracy
  • perception
  • preventative health
  • self-efficacy
  • self-management
  • technology
  • wellness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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