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Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2013 Aug 20. pii: S1064-7481(13)00228-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jagp.2013.04.010. [Epub ahead of print]

Frailty and Depression in Older Adults: A High-Risk Clinical Population.

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  • 1Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY. Electronic address: pb2410@columbia.edu.



To identify salient characteristics of frailty that increase risk of death in depressed elders.


Data were from the Nordic Research on Ageing Study from research sites in Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. Participants were 1,027 adults aged 75 years (436 men and 591 women). Time of death was obtained, providing a maximum survival time of 11.08 years (initial evaluation took place between 1988 and 1991).


Depressed elders showed greater baseline impairments in each frailty characteristic (gait speed, grip strength, physical activity levels, and fatigue). Simultaneous models including all four frailty characteristics showed slow gait speed (hazard ratio: 1.84; 95% confidence interval: 1.05-3.21) and fatigue (hazard ratio: 1.94; 95% confidence interval: 1.11-3.40) associated with faster progression to death in depressed women; none of the frailty characteristics in the simultaneous model was associated with death in depressed men. In women, the effect of impaired gait speed on mortality rates nearly doubled when depression was present (nondepressed women: no gait impairment = 26%; slow gait = 40%; depressed women: no gait impairment = 32%; slow gait = 58%). A similar pattern was observed for fatigue.


The confluence of specific characteristics of frailty (fatigue and slow gait speed) and depressive illness is associated with an increased risk of death in older adults; this association is particularly strong in older depressed women. Future research should investigate whether multimodal interventions targeting depressive illness, mobility deficits, and fatigue can decrease mortality and improve quality of life in older depressed individuals with characteristics of the syndrome of frailty.

Copyright © 2013 American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Depression; frailty; mortality

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