Screening accuracy for late-life depression in primary care: a systematic review

J Fam Pract. 2003 Dec;52(12):956-64.


Objective: To determine the accuracy of depression screening instruments for older adults in primary care.

Study design: Systematic review.

Data sources: MEDLINE, PsycINFO (search dates 1966 to January 2002), and the Cochrane database on depression, anxiety and neurosis. We also searched the second Guide to Clinical Preventive Services, the 1993 Agency for Health Care Policy and Research Clinical Practice Guideline on Depression, and recent systematic reviews. Hand-checking of bibliographies and extensive peer review were also used to identify potential articles.

Outcomes measured: A predefined search strategy targeted only studies of adults aged 65 years or older in primary care or community settings, including long-term care. Articles were included in this review if they reported original data and tested depression screening instruments against a criterion standard, yielding sensitivity and specificity.

Results: Eighteen articles met criteria and are included in this review, representing 9 different screening instruments. The most commonly evaluated were the Geriatric Depression Scale (30- and 15-item versions), the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, and the SelfCARE(D). Differences in the performance of these 3 instruments were minimal; sensitivities ranged from 74% to 100% and specificities ranged from 53% to 98%.

Conclusions: Accurate and feasible screening instruments are available for detecting late-life depression in primary care. More research is needed to determine the accuracy of depression screening instruments for demented individuals, and for those with subthreshold depressive disorders.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Depression / classification
  • Depression / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder / classification
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Geriatric Assessment / methods*
  • Geriatric Assessment / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening
  • Middle Aged
  • Severity of Illness Index