University of Oulu

Lehti, T.E., Öhman, H., Knuutila, M. et al. Symptom burden in community-dwelling older people: temporal trends in the Helsinki Aging Study. Aging Clin Exp Res 33, 3065–3071 (2021).

Symptom burden in community-dwelling older people : temporal trends in the Helsinki Aging Study

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Author: Lehti, T. E.1,2,3,4; Öhman, H.5; Knuutila, M.1,2;
Organizations: 1Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
2Social Services and Health Care, Helsinki, Finland
3Primary Health Care Unit, Helsinki University Hospital, Helsinki, Finland
4Tukholmankatu 8 B, Biomedicum 2 B, 00290, Helsinki, Finland
5Geriatric Medicine, University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Hospital, Helsinki, Finland
6Center for Life Course Health Research, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.4 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-12-13


Background: Changes in older people’s symptoms across recent decades have not been investigated.

Aims: We analyzed temporal trends in symptom burden by comparing data from independent, cross-sectional cohorts retrieved in 1989, 1999, 2009, and 2019. Furthermore, we compared the association between symptom burden and psychological wellbeing (PWB) in older men and women.

Methods: The Helsinki Aging Study recruited a random sample of people aged 75, 80, and 85 in 1989, and random samples aged 75, 80, 85, 90, and 95 in 1999, 2009, and 2019 (four study waves). Altogether, 6263 community-dwelling people answered the questions concerning symptoms in the questionnaire surveys. The symptoms inquired in all study waves were dizziness, back pain, joint pain, chest pain, shortness of breath, and loss of appetite. Symptom burden was calculated according to the number of symptoms and their frequency (score range: 0–6). PWB and the Charlson comorbidity index were calculated.

Results: Symptom burden decreased in both men and women aged 75 and 80 from 1989 to 2019. Changes in cohorts aged 85 + were nonsignificant. There was a significant difference in symptom burden between men and women in all ages with men having fewer symptoms. PWB decreased with increasing symptom burden. Men had greater PWB than women up to severe levels of symptom burden.

Conclusions: Symptom burden decreased from 1989 to 2019 in cohorts aged 75–80, whereas changes remained nonsignificant in cohorts aged 85 +. To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine temporal trends in symptom burden.

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Series: Aging clinical and experimental research
ISSN: 1594-0667
ISSN-E: 1720-8319
ISSN-L: 1594-0667
Volume: 33
Issue: 11
Pages: 3065 - 3071
DOI: 10.1007/s40520-021-01918-8
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 3142 Public health care science, environmental and occupational health
Funding: Open access funding provided by University of Helsinki including Helsinki University Central Hospital. This research has been funded by the Päivikki and Sakari Sohlberg Foundation, the Kunnanlääkäri Uulo Arhio Foundation, and Helsinki University Hospital VTR funding. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
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