A Cross-Sectional Study of Somatic Symptoms and the Identification of Depression Among Elderly Primary Care Patients

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Objective: To examine the relationship between somatization and depression as rated by primary care physicians.

Method: This study was a cross-sectional survey of 355 older adults with and without significant depressive symptoms. Physicians' ratings of somatization and depression were obtained for 341 of the 355 patients. Patients were sorted into 4 groups on the basis of physician ratings (no depression/no somatization, somatization only, depression only, and both somatization and depression). Data were collected from 2001–2003.

Results: Patients who were rated as somatizing were 4.03 (95% CI, 2.52–6.45) times as likely to be rated as depressed as well as somatizing. A comparison of the 4 groups defined by physicians' ratings found that functional status, ethnicity, number of medical conditions, depressive symptoms, and anxiety were statistically significantly different (P < .05). Primary care physicians were 3.95 (95% CI, 1.53–10.16) times more likely to identify older black patients as somatizing only versus depressed and somatizing compared to older white patients among patients above a threshold on a standard depression instrument.

Conclusions: Our study fills a gap in the literature by focusing on the primary care physician ratings of depression and somatization, and also specifically on older primary care patients. Blacks are less likely to be rated as depressed, but this may reflect the tendency of doctors to rate them as somatizing.

Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 2009;11(6):285-291