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Poor Mood May Mean Missed Check-ups

Depressed elderly patients often forego important tests, experts say

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 8, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Feeling anxious or depressed can block elderly people from going for routine check-ups and other preventive care, a new study suggests.

The finding highlights the need for doctors to screen older patients to determine if they may be suffering psychological distress, the researchers said.

"We must screen for and treat psychological distress because it can translate into better physical health," study leader Joshua Thorpe, assistant research professor in the School of Nursing and senior fellow in the Duke University Center for Aging, said in a prepared statement.

His team analyzed data from about 3,700 people age 65 and older and found those with poor emotional health were 30 percent less likely to receive an annual flu shot; 23 percent less likely to have an annual dental check-up; and that distressed older women were 27 percent less likely to undergo a clinical breast examination.

"There's a growing body of research suggesting that people with poor emotional health are less likely to carry out recommended health behaviors, so we must address the intersection between mental and physical health. If we don't, people might not take their medications or get recommended health-care services," Thorpe said.

"A flu shot is cheap and effective and it prevents the need for secondary care. Without it, pneumonia is a bigger possibility," he noted. "Patients who don't receive regular dental check-ups are also prone to suffer from periodontitis and other dental diseases."

Previous research found that doctors screen for psychological distress in only 14 percent of primary-care visits by elderly patients. Rates of depression among the elderly range from 10 percent to 50 percent, depending on their health, activity level, and living situation, according to the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing.

The Duke study appears in the February issue of the journal Medical Care.

More information

The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry has more about seniors and depression.

SOURCE: Duke University, news release, Feb. 1, 2006
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