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Prolonged grief disorder prevalence in adults 65 years and over: a systematic review


Background Prolonged grief disorder (PGD) is a recently recognised mental health disorder with an estimated prevalence of 10% in the bereaved adult population. This review aims to appraise and summarise evidence relating to PGD in older adults (≥65 years), a growing population group, most likely to experience bereavement and often assumed to cope well.

Method Literature from Medline, PsycINFO, CINAHL, Cochrane Library and Web of Science was searched. Epidemiological and non-epidemiological studies including data on frequency of PGD in older adults bereaved by mainly natural causes were included and a descriptive analysis undertaken.

Results From 2059 records, three epidemiological and six non-epidemiological studies were included. Most studies had good internal but not external validity. Conditional prevalence for PGD ranged between 3.2% and 48.8%. Heterogeneity in sample characteristics and study methodology contributed to this variability resulting in a descriptive analysis. The prevalence rate of 9.1% by Kersting et al was the best available estimate for PGD in older adults for western countries. The small number of epidemiological studies and the use of varying PGD-constructs which did not match International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition criteria were the main limiting factors.

Conclusion This first review on PGD prevalence in older adults suggests that, despite studies’ methodological short comings, a similar proportion of older adults experience PGD as the general bereaved adult population (1:10). With older adults forming the largest subgroup among the bereaved, health and social care systems need to adapt their provision of care to address the specific needs of older adults.

  • bereavement
  • psychological care

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