Poor Emotional Health is Barrier to Preventive Care in Elderly

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Elder Care

Poor emotional health, such as symptoms of depression and anxiety, may significantly reduce the likelihood that elderly patients will receive preventive health services, according to a study led by a Duke University Medical Center School of Nursing researcher. The researchers said their findings lead them to recommend that physicians actively screen older patients to determine if they might be experiencing symptoms of psychological distress.

The study showed people age 65 and older are up to 30 percent less likely to receive preventive services that are generally recommended for older adults, including influenza vaccinations, dental check-ups or clinical breast exams, said Joshua Thorpe, Ph.D., MPH, assistant research professor in the School of Nursing and senior fellow in the Duke University Center for Aging. Receiving these services may help control the costs of health care by preventing the need for more expensive health care services, Thorpe said.

"We must screen for and treat psychological distress because it can translate into better physical health," Thorpe said. "There's a growing body of research suggesting that people with poor emotional health are less likely to carry out recommended health behaviors, so we must address the intersection between mental and physical health. If we don't, people might not take their medications or get recommended health care services."

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The researchers published their findings in the February 2006 issue of Medical Care, a journal associated with the American Public Health Association. Funding for the study was provided by a National Research Service Award from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education.

The researchers said their study was one of few studies to focus on the effect that psychological distress -- clinically defined as a condition including symptoms of depression and anxiety -- has on the use of preventive services. The study was also unusual in that it was the first to use a sample nationally representative of all older adults living in the community, and not just older adults polled in a doctor's office.

According to Thorpe, individuals who are bereaved, lonely, coping with chronic pain or other illnesses common to older adults or who are primary caregivers for loved ones with chronic or terminal illnesses are at risk for not receiving proper preventive care due to psychological distress.

The study included an analysis of survey data from approximately 3,700 elderly individuals

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