The burden of symptoms among community-dwelling older persons with advanced chronic disease

Arch Intern Med. 2004 Nov 22;164(21):2321-4. doi: 10.1001/archinte.164.21.2321.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged*
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cost of Illness*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Heart Failure / complications*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / complications*
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Severity of Illness Index