The prevalence and characteristics of complicated grief in older adults

J Affect Disord. 2011 Jul;132(1-2):231-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2011.02.021. Epub 2011 Mar 12.


Background: Complicated grief is a prolongation of the normal grieving process with distinct characteristics. It impairs mental and physical health and can potentially greatly impact the quality of life of sufferers and their families. The prevalence and characteristics of complicated grief in the general population are currently unclear. The aims of the present study were therefore to evaluate the prevalence of complicated grief in a population-based cohort, examine the overlap between anxiety and depression and identify common bereavement-related and socio-demographic characteristics.

Methods: Based within the Rotterdam Study, 5741 older adults were evaluated. Complicated grief was assessed with a 17-item Inventory of Complicated Grief.

Results: Prevalence within the general population was 4.8%. Current grief was reported by 1089 participants, and of these 277 (25.4%) were diagnosed with complicated grief. Inflated anxiety and depression rates were documented in people with complicated grief, but the vast majority remained free from co-morbidity. Time since bereavement and relationship to deceased, particularly when the source was a spouse or child, were predictive of complicated grief. People with complicated grief were older, had a lower level of education, and more cognitive impairment.

Conclusions: The prevalence of complicated grief in older adults in the general population was noteworthy. Several factors were predictive of complicated grief and it was demonstrated as a separate condition to anxiety and depression. These findings highlight the need for prevention, diagnosis and treatment options for older adults with complicated grief and for recognition of complicated grief as a distinct diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adjustment Disorders / diagnosis
  • Adjustment Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Adjustment Disorders / psychology
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Comorbidity
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Female
  • Grief*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Personality Assessment / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychometrics
  • Socioeconomic Factors