Detecting depression in elderly outpatients: findings from depression symptom scales and the Dartmouth COOP charts

Fam Med. 1994 Sep;26(8):519-23.


Background: The diagnosis and treatment of depression in elderly adults is a serious concern in outpatient settings, where it is well known that practicing physicians often overlook the possibility of depression in adult patients of all ages. Detecting depression in elderly patients can present different problems than detection in younger patients, and special instruments have been developed to screen for depressive symptoms in the elderly. These instruments are not commonly used in family practice settings because of time constraints and confusion about details on how to use them.

Methods: This study compared four commonly accepted depression scales: the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS), the Beck Depression Inventory Short Form, the Durham GRECC, and the Brief Carroll Scale, and one functional assessment instrument, the Dartmouth COOP Functional Assessment Charts/WONCA, in identifying depressive symptoms in 100 patients 65 years and older (mean 71.6 years) attending an outpatient family practice residency clinic. These results were compared with actual chart records relating to depression and depression symptoms.

Results: The prevalence of depressive symptoms in this elderly outpatient population fell within the range of 16.5%-34.7%, according to scores on the various depression scales. Review of the same patients' medical records revealed that only 7% had been given a diagnosis of or were being treated for depression by their physician. The three shorter depression scales correlated well with the longer GDS, indicating that they may be substitutable for the more lengthy GDS. The Dartmouth COOP Functional Assessment Charts/WONCA proved to have a high level of consistency between the findings from its emotional condition component and the results of the depression symptom scales.

Conclusion: This study affirms the potential utility of depression symptom screening scales in the outpatient setting. It also points to the possible utility of the emotional condition component of the Dartmouth COOP Functional Assessment Charts/WONCA as a screening question to be followed, as appropriate, by more formal instruments or clinical interview for depression in elderly outpatients.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Depression / diagnosis*
  • Emotions
  • Family Practice
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Outpatients
  • Personality Inventory
  • Personality Tests
  • Prevalence
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity