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15 Sep, 2012

Depression Hits Adults Aged 65+ More When Other Chronic Conditions Are Present


MINNETONKA, Minn.–(BUSINESS WIRE) – September 13, 2012 – The impact of depressive symptoms is often greater among people with one or more chronic conditions or health concerns, according to a new study by AARP Services, Inc. (ASI), a wholly owned, taxable subsidiary of AARP, and UnitedHealthcare, a UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) company.

The study, “The Burden of Depressive Symptoms and Various Chronic Conditions and Health Concerns on the Quality of Life among Those with Medicare Supplement Insurance,” surveyed more than 9,300 people ages 65 and older living in 10 states and enrolled in AARP Medicare Supplement plans insured by UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company (for New York residents, UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company of New York). The study results appear in the September issue of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Nearly 25 percent of respondents reported evidence of depressive symptoms. According to the survey findings, having depressive symptoms was associated with significantly lower quality of life for all eight quality of life components measured. For example, compared to those who did not report depressive symptoms, the greatest impact of depressive symptoms was on social functioning and the ability to handle emotional roles.

“Detecting depression in adults 65 years and older is difficult because symptoms are often masked by the physical manifestations of other chronic conditions,” said Dr. Richard J. Migliori, executive vice president of Health Services at UnitedHealth Group. “Given the substantial impact of depression on quality of life and the added health issues that depression poses for people with chronic conditions, targeting the physical and emotional aspects of chronic illness by using various depression-screening tools may help find a group that is more at risk. This will enable clinicians to focus their efforts on patients with the greatest need.”

The greatest impact of depressive symptoms among people with chronic conditions or health concerns was on one’s ability to handle physical and emotional roles, social functioning and bodily pain.

“We believe this survey should alert health professionals, patients and families of the potential negative impact that depression can have on quality of life among older adults,” said Dr. Charlotte S. Yeh, chief medical officer, AARP Services, Inc. “There are many treatments for depression in older adults, and we urge people 65 and over with depressive symptoms to talk with their doctors and learn more about what options are available.”

To help older adults who suffer from depression, UnitedHealthcare is piloting care management programs for people enrolled in an AARP Medicare Supplement plan insured by UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company. The programs offer screening services and access to nurse case managers via telephone or face-to-face visits. The personal, holistic care these programs offer helps patients address clinical, psychosocial, environmental and other needs to assist patients in taking charge of their health. These programs also offer support tools and information to caregivers and physicians, all of which help improve the health of people enrolled in the plan.

The care management program targets those with chronic illnesses living in high disease prevalence areas in five states (New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida and California).

UnitedHealthcare offers several initiatives to better understand the characteristics, needs and general health of older adults, with the goal to improve care coordination and delivery of services. The geriatric syndrome initiative is designed to investigate the impact of new care coordination programs for AARP Medicare Supplement members with chronic conditions. These include the pilot care management programs described above.

Study Methods

Data for this study were obtained from the Health Update Survey (HUS), which contains questions on demographics, health conditions and the Veterans RAND 12-item health status survey. The mail survey was fielded on a random sample of 30,000 insureds at least 65 years of age from 10 states between 2008 and 2009. Respondents were divided into those who experienced depressive symptoms, and those who did not, based on their response to questions about their mood during the last 12 months. Univariate and multivariate analyses were conducted to estimate the impact of depressive symptoms on quality of life while controlling for respondent demographics and other health conditions.