Screening African-American elderly for the presence of depressive symptoms: A preliminary investigation


Several authors have reported that older African-Americans with multiple medical problems and decreased activities of daily living are at an increased risk of reporting symptoms of depression. African-Americans were more likely to report symptoms of anger, irritability, denial of illness, and to spontaneously report symptoms that did not reflect a change in mood, but rather forbearance of a difficult time or somatic complaints. This paper describes the results of a study to assess the presence of depressive symptoms in older African-American community residents. A new instrument, the Baker Belief Scale, is compared with the Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression Scale (CES-D) and the association of medical illnesses, social network, and level of physical function in activities of daily living (ADL). Ninety-six African-American men and women, aged 60 years or older, with equal representation from urban and rural counties in western Tennessee comprised the sample. The sample was stratified, in each of the two counties, into three age categories; 60-69, 70-79, and 80 years and older. A screening battery consisting of the Short Portable Mental Status Questionnaire, the CES-D, the Lubben Social Network Scale, and the Katz ADL were administered to the sample. Current medical illnesses were recorded with demographic data. There was a significant association between the CES-D score and the BBS score for those who screened positive for symptoms of depression. In addition there was a significant relationship between CES-D score and specific medical illnesses, social network, physical function in ADL, and residence (urban vs. rural). Residents who screened positive (N = 19) for depressive symptomatology with CES-D scores of 16 or higher exhibited a higher frequency of hypertension, arteriosclerosis, and circulatory problems than those who tested negative (N = 77). More urban residents (N = 13) than rural residents (N = 6) screened positive for symptoms of depression. Approximately 21% (N = 20) of the 96 respondents had scores of 20 or less on the Lubben Social Network Scale, suggesting a group 'at risk' for social isolation.

Publication Title

Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology