Background: Little is known about the frequency and range of symptoms experienced by community-dwelling older persons with advanced chronic disease who are not enrolled in hospice. The objectives of our study were to determine (1) the prevalence of a range of symptoms among older persons with advanced chronic disease and (2) whether the prevalence of symptoms is similar across diagnoses.
Methods: This was a cross-sectional study of the symptoms reported by 226 community-dwelling persons 60 years or older with advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer, or congestive heart failure (CHF). Symptoms were assessed using the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System.
Results: Virtually all participants (86%) experienced at least 1 symptom that rated moderate or severe, and most (69%) experienced 2 or more symptoms. The symptoms reported by the greatest proportion of participants were limited activity (61%), fatigue (47%), and physical discomfort (38%). Participants with COPD had a higher unadjusted mean +/- SD number of moderate or severe symptoms (3.3 +/- 2.1) than did participants with cancer (2.6 +/- 1.8; P = .03) or CHF (2.0 +/- 1.7; P<.001). After we adjusted for sociodemographic factors, compared with participants with CHF, participants with cancer experienced 38% (95% confidence interval, 9%-75%) more moderate or severe symptoms and participants with COPD experienced 71% (95% confidence interval, 37%-114%) more moderate or severe symptoms.
Conclusions: Most community-dwelling older persons with advanced COPD, cancer, or CHF experienced multiple moderate or severe symptoms. The clinical care of community-dwelling older persons with advanced chronic illnesses would be enhanced by the identification and alleviation of the range of symptoms they experience.