Psychological disorders and distress in older primary care patients: a comparison of older and younger samples

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


BACKGROUND: Community studies have documented prevalence rates of psychological disorders among older individuals. Further, a growing number of studies have examined depression in older medical patients. However, little is known about the prevalence of a broad range of psychological disorders and psychosocial stressors among older primary care patients. The purpose of the present study was to characterize psychological disorders and psychosocial stressors in older primary care patients and identify differences with younger patients.

METHODS: Descriptive survey; criterion standard. Five hundred thirty-four patients 65 years and older and 2466 patients less than 65 years old recruited from eight primary care sites. The Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) was employed to assess major depressive disorder, other depressive disorder, panic disorder, other anxiety disorder, probable alcohol abuse/dependence, somatoform disorder, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Common psychosocial stressors were also assessed. Patient-reported health status was measured by the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form 20 (SF-20).

RESULTS: Older patients were much less likely than younger patients to have a psychological disorder (5% vs. 17%). Also, older patients had significantly less severe psychological symptom (4.7 vs. 8.0) and psychosocial stressor (2.3 vs. 4.7) scores. Worrying about health (10%), weight (9%), and a recent bad event (8%) were the most common stressors among the older group. Like younger patients, older patients who suffered from psychological symptoms and disorders experienced substantial functional impairment.

CONCLUSIONS: Prevalence rates of psychological disorders and psychosocial stressors differ greatly between younger and older primary care patients and, somewhat contrary to clinical intuition, are lower among older patients.


  • Joshua Klapow
  • Kurt Kroenke
  • Trudi Horton
  • Steven Schmidt
  • Robert Spitzer
  • Janet B W Williams
External organisations
  • University of Alabama
Research areas and keywords


  • Adult, Age Factors, Aged, Depressive Disorder, Major, Female, Health Status, Humans, Male, Mental Disorders, Prevalence, Primary Health Care, Reproducibility of Results, Severity of Illness Index, Somatoform Disorders, Surveys and Questionnaires, Comparative Study, Journal Article, Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't, Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)635-43
Number of pages9
JournalPsychosomatic Medicine
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2002 Jul 26
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes