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Open Access Research article

Health status transitions in community-living elderly with complex care needs: a latent class approach

Louise Lafortune123*, François Béland134, Howard Bergman134 and Joël Ankri2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Health Administration, Université de Montréal, Québec, Canada

2 Laboratoire Santé et Vieillissement, Université de Versailles-Saint-Quentin, INSERM U687, Paris, France

3 Solidage Research Group, Montréal, Québec, Canada

4 Division of Geriatric Medicine, McGill University, Jewish General Hospital, Montréal, Québec, Canada

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BMC Geriatrics 2009, 9:6  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-9-6

Published: 3 February 2009

Abstract

Background

For older persons with complex care needs, accounting for the variability and interdependency in how health dimensions manifest themselves is necessary to understand the dynamic of health status. Our objective is to test the hypothesis that a latent classification can capture this heterogeneity in a population of frail elderly persons living in the community. Based on a person-centered approach, the classification corresponds to substantively meaningful groups of individuals who present with a comparable constellation of health problems.

Methods

Using data collected for the SIPA project, a system of integrated care for frail older people (n = 1164), we performed latent class analyses to identify homogenous categories of health status (i.e. health profiles) based on 17 indicators of prevalent health problems (chronic conditions; depression; cognition; functional and sensory limitations; instrumental, mobility and personal care disability) Then, we conducted latent transition analyses to study change in profile membership over 2 consecutive periods of 12 and 10 months, respectively. We modeled competing risks for mortality and lost to follow-up as absorbing states to avoid attrition biases.

Results

We identified four health profiles that distinguish the physical and cognitive dimensions of health and capture severity along the disability dimension. The profiles are stable over time and robust to mortality and lost to follow-up attrition. The differentiated and gender-specific patterns of transition probabilities demonstrate the profiles' sensitivity to change in health status and unmasked the differential relationship of physical and cognitive domains with progression in disability.

Conclusion

Our approach may prove useful at organization and policy levels where many issues call for classification of individuals into pragmatically meaningful groups. In dealing with attrition biases, our analytical strategy could provide critical information for the planning of longitudinal studies of aging. Combined, these findings address a central challenge in geriatrics by making the multidimensional and dynamic nature of health computationally tractable.