Usefulness of a single item in a mail survey to identify persons with possible dementia: A new strategy for finding high-risk elders

Kathleen K. Brody, Katie Maslow, Nancy A. Perrin, Valerie Crooks, Richard Dellapenna, Daniel Kuang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The objective of this study was to examine the characteristics of elderly persons who responded positively to a question about "severe memory problems" on a mailed health questionnaire yet were missed by the existing health risk algorithm to identify vulnerable elderly persons. A total of 324,471 respondents aged 65 and older completed a primary care health status questionnaire that gathered clinical information to quickly identify members with functional impairment, multiple chronic diseases, and higher medical care needs. The respondents were part of a large, integrated, not-for-profit managed care organization that implemented a model of care for elders using a uniform risk identification method across eight regions. Respondents with severe memory problems were compared to general respondents by morbidity, geriatric syndromes, functional impairments, service utilization, sensory impairments, sociodemographic characteristics, and activities of daily living. Of the respondents, 13,902 persons (4.3%) reported severe memory problems; the existing health risk algorithm missed 47.1% of these. When severe memory problems were included in the risk algorithm, identification increased from 11% to 13%, and risk prevalence by age groups ranged from 4.4% to 40.5%; one third had severe memory problems, a finding that was fairly consistent within age groups (28.4% to 36.5%). A question about severe memory problems should be incorporated into population risk-identification techniques. While false-negative rates are unknown, the false-positive rate of a self-report mail survey appears to be minimal. Persons reporting severe memory problems clearly have multiple comorbidities, higher prevalence of geriatric syndromes, and greater functional and sensory impairments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-72
Number of pages14
JournalDisease Management
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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