UW News

September 9, 2003

Depression in the elderly leads to higher health costs

Work done by researchers at the University of Washington and Group Health Center for Health Studies shows that depressed older adults use more health care services and have higher health care costs than their peers who do not suffer from depression. The study, done with a population-based sample of patients enrolled in Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, is being published in the Sept. 8 edition of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Dr. Wayne Katon, vice-chair of the Department of Psychiatric and Behavioral Sciences, is the article’s lead author. He is also director of the Division of Health Services and Psychiatric Epidemiology in the UW School of Medicine. Katon and Dr. Elizabeth Lin of the Group Health Center for Health Studies wanted to ascertain what impact clinical depression has on frequency of use of health care services and the added cost of those services.

“We screened about 9,000 seniors at two Seattle clinics in the Group Health Cooperative for symptoms of depression,” Katon said. “Then my colleagues and I examined total costs for medical services for a six-month period of those who had depressive symptoms. We compared their health-care costs to those of people who did not have symptoms of depression, according to figures obtained from the health maintenance organization’s cost accounting system.”

Total outpatient costs for depressed elderly were 43 to 52 percent higher than for their peers who were not depressed. With the addition of inpatient care costs, the percentage rose to 47 to 56 percent higher for the depressed seniors.

“This increase was seen in every component of health-care costs, even after adjustment for chronic medical illness,” Katon said. “Only a small percentage of this increase is due to mental health treatment. These results suggest that improving the recognition and treatment of depression in elderly patients may be cost-neutral or even lead to decreased medical costs over all.”