Risk factors for harm in cognitively impaired seniors who live alone: a prospective study

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2004 Sep;52(9):1435-41. doi: 10.1111/j.0002-8614.2004.52404.x.


Objectives: To identify risk factors for harm due to self-neglect or behaviors related to disorientation in cognitively impaired seniors who live alone that can be used in primary care.

Design: Inception cohort followed prospectively for 18 months.

Setting: Participants were referred by their primary care physicians and community service agencies or were patients of several medical units of a large teaching hospital.

Participants: One hundred thirty-nine community-residing participants, aged 65 and older who scored less than 131 on the Dementia Rating Scale and lived alone.

Measurements: Baseline Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE); a social resources questionnaire; presence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cerebrovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, Charlson Comorbidity Index, and medication use were examined as predictors of incident harm. Informants and primary care physicians provided information about the nature of any harm at 3-month intervals over an 18-month period. An incident of harm was included if it occurred as the result of self-neglect or behaviors related to disorientation, resulted in physical injury or property loss or damage, and required emergency community interventions.

Results: Based on the consensual agreement of four raters, 21.6% had an incident of harm. The proportional hazards model was highly significant (P<.001) and supported by bootstrapping estimates. Four variables were significantly predictive of time to incident harm: perception of fewer social resources, poorer performance on MMSE, presence of COPD, and presence of cerebrovascular disorders.

Conclusion: Predictors of incident harm can be identified in the primary care setting and provide direction for the early identification of those at highest risk. Validation of findings with a new cohort is necessary.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents / statistics & numerical data*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / complications
  • Cognition Disorders / complications*
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Comorbidity
  • Diabetes Complications
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment* / methods
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Status Schedule
  • Ontario / epidemiology
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Primary Health Care
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prospective Studies
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / complications
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Assessment / methods
  • Risk Factors
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / epidemiology
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / etiology*
  • Social Support
  • Surveys and Questionnaires