Objective: To evaluate the effectiveness of in-home geriatric assessments as a means of providing preventive health care and improving health and functional status of community-living elderly veterans.
Design: Randomized controlled trial with 1-year follow-up.
Setting: Home visits performed in a suburb of Los Angeles.
Participants: Community-living veterans 70 years and older not currently receiving health care at the Sepulveda VA Medical Center (n = 131 intervention; 123 controls).
Intervention: A home visit by a physician's assistant or nurse, to screen for medical, functional and psychosocial problems, followed by a letter describing findings and recommendations, and follow-up visits by trained volunteers at 4-month intervals for 1 year. Controls received only telephone interviews at 4-month intervals to collect outcome data.
Measurements: Compliance with recommendations was studied for the intervention group. Outcome comparisons between the two groups included: mortality, medication usage, functional status, immunization rates, and nursing home and hospital utilization.
Main results: A mean of four new or suboptimally treated problems was identified for intervention subjects. Subjects complied with 76% of recommendations to see a physician or initiate a specific health practice. At 12-month follow-up, intervention subjects had significantly increased their immunization rates (P < 0.001) and had a significantly increased likelihood of having a primary care physician (P < 0.05). Twelve-month functional status (IADL) scores were significantly higher for intervention subjects than for controls; intervention subjects maintained their functional status, while controls experienced significant decline during the follow-up year (P < 0.05). Non-prescription drug use increased significantly among controls, but not among intervention subjects (P < 0.05).
Conclusions: A brief geriatric screening assessment performed in the home can detect unrecognized and treatable problems, even among relatively healthy older adults. The use of trained volunteers is a feasible strategy for providing health education and follow-up contacts. These results support the concept that preventive gerontological approaches can help maintain important aspects of health and function.