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J Psychosom Res. 2012 Feb;72(2):120-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2011.11.011. Epub 2011 Dec 20.

Does psychological distress vary between younger and older adults in health and disease?

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Department of Psychiatry, Medical School, University of Ioannina, Greece.



The effect of age on psychological distress remains controversial and it is unclear how a chronic medical illness influences this association. We aimed to compare the level of psychological distress between younger and older patients with chronic medical conditions attending hospital specialty clinics and to test whether a different pattern emerges when comparisons with individuals without long-term conditions are made.


In 519 individuals without chronic medical conditions and 949 patients with established severe chronic medical illnesses, we compared psychological distress (GHQ-28 and SCL-90R) between younger (<65, N=1040) and older (≥65, N=428) participants after controlling for gender, marital status, education and primary diagnosis in multiple logistic regression models.


Among the healthy participants, a greater proportion of older individuals presented mild/moderate psychological distress (p=.026), predominantly depressive and somatization symptoms. Among the medical patients, both age groups presented elevated levels of psychological distress, but a greater proportion of younger patients had severe psychological distress (p=.016), predominantly depressive, anxiety and hostility symptoms. Younger patients reported similarly high levels of somatization symptoms compared to older patients. The odds of being assessed with severe psychological distress were significantly greater for younger individuals with physical illnesses, independently of gender, marital status, education and primary diagnosis.


Medical patients from both age groups had significant psychological distress symptoms scores. Younger patients with chronic medical illnesses were more vulnerable to severe psychological distress, including symptoms of anxiety, depression, hostility and somatization. Therefore, clinicians should direct efforts to recognize these symptoms in order to prevent further functional impairment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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