Background: Older patients often have poor health status outcomes after hospitalization. Symptoms of depression are common in hospitalized older persons and may be a risk factor for these poor outcomes.
Objective: To determine whether symptoms of depression predict worse health status outcomes in acutely ill, older medical patients, independent of health status and severity of illness at hospital admission.
Design: Prospective cohort study.
Setting: Medical service of a teaching hospital.
Patients: 572 hospitalized medical patients older than 70 years of age.
Measurements: 15 symptoms of depression, health status, and severity of illness were measured at admission. The main outcome was dependence in basic activities of daily living at discharge and 30 and 90 days after discharge. Other outcome measures were dependence in instrumental activities of daily living, fair or poor global health status, and poor global satisfaction with life.
Results: The median number of symptoms of depression on admission was 4. Patients with 6 or more symptoms on admission (n = 196) were more likely than patients with 0 to 2 symptoms (n = 181) to be dependent in basic activities of daily living (odds ratio, 2.47 [95% CI, 1.58 to 3.86]) after controlling for demographic characteristics and severity of illness. At each subsequent time point, patients with more symptoms of depression on admission were more likely to be dependent in basic activities of daily living. This association persisted after adjustment for dependence in basic activities of daily living, severity of illness, and demographic characteristics on admission. The odds ratios comparing patients who had 6 or more symptoms with those who had 0 to 2 symptoms were 3.23 (CI, 1.76 to 5.95) at discharge, 3.45 (CI, 1.81 to 6.60) 30 days after discharge, and 2.15 (CI, 1.15 to 4.03) 90 days after discharge. At each time point, patients with 6 or more symptoms of depression were more likely to have more dependence in instrumental activities of daily living, worse global health status, and less satisfaction with life.
Conclusions: Symptoms of depression identified a vulnerable group of hospitalized older persons. The health status of patients with more symptoms of depression was more likely to deteriorate and less likely to improve during and after hospitalization. This association was not attributable to health status or severity of illness on admission. The temporal sequence and magnitude of this association, its consistency over time with different measures, and its independence from the severity of the somatic illness strongly support a relation between symptoms of depression on admission and subsequent health status outcomes.