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The impact of an aging population on the psychiatric emergency service (PES) has not been fully ascertained. Cognitive dysfunctions aside, many DSM-IV disorders may have a lower prevalence in the elderly, who appear to be underrepresented in the PES. We therefore attempted to more precisely assess their patterns of PES use and their clinical and demographic characteristics.
Close to 30,000 visits to a general hospital PES (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) were acquired between 1990 and 2004 and pooled with over 17,000 visits acquired using the same methodology at three other services in Quebec between 2002 and 2004.
The median age of PES patients increased over time. However, the proportion of yearly visits attributable to the elderly (compared to those under 65) showed no consistent increase during the observation period. The pattern of return visits (two to three, four to ten, eleven or more) did not differ from that of patients under 65, although the latter made a greater number of total return visits per patient. The elderly were more often women (62%), widowed (28%), came to the PES accompanied (42%) and reported « illness » as an important stressor (29%). About 39% were referred for depression or anxiety. They were less violent (10%) upon their arrival. Affective disorders predominated in the diagnostic profile, they were less co-morbid and more likely admitted than patients under 65.
Although no proportional increase in PES use over time was found the elderly do possess distinct characteristics potentially useful in PES resource planning so as to better serve this increasingly important segment of the general population.