Chronic symptoms in a representative sample of community-dwelling older people: a cross-sectional study in Switzerland.

Henchoz, Yves; Büla, Christophe; Guessous, Idris; Rodondi, Nicolas; Goy, René; Demont, Maurice; Santos-Eggimann, Brigitte (2017). Chronic symptoms in a representative sample of community-dwelling older people: a cross-sectional study in Switzerland. BMJ open, 7(1), e014485. BMJ Publishing Group 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-014485

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The burden of multiple diagnoses is well documented in older people, but less is known about chronic symptoms, many of which are even not brought to medical attention. This study aimed to determine the prevalence of chronic symptoms, their relationships with disability in basic activities of daily living (BADL) and quality of life (QoL), and their public health impact.


A large cross-sectional population-based study.


Community in 2 regions of French-speaking Switzerland.


Community-dwelling older adults aged 68 years and older in 2011 (N=5300).


Disability in BADL defined as difficulty or help needed with any of dressing, bathing, eating, getting in/out of bed or an arm chair, and using the toilet. Overall QoL dichotomised as favourable (ie, excellent or very good) or unfavourable (ie, good, fair or poor). Disturbance by any of the following 14 chronic symptoms for at least 6 months: joint pain, back pain, chest pain, dyspnoea, persistent cough, swollen legs, memory gaps, difficulty concentrating, difficulty making decisions, dizziness/vertigo, skin problems, stomach/intestine problems, urinary incontinence and impaired sexual life.


Only 17.1% of participants did not report being disturbed by any of these chronic symptoms. Weighted prevalence ranged from 3.1% (chest pain) to 47.7% (joint pain). Most chronic symptoms were significantly associated with disability in BADL or unfavourable QoL, with substantial gender differences. The number of chronic symptoms was significantly associated with disability in BADL and unfavourable QoL, with gradients suggesting dose-response relationships. Joint pain and back pain had the highest population attributable fractions.


Chronic symptoms are highly prevalent in older people, and are associated with disability in BADL and unfavourable QoL, particularly when multiple chronic symptoms co-occur. Owing to their high public health impact, musculoskeletal chronic symptoms represent good targets for preventive interventions.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Department of General Internal Medicine (DAIM) > Clinic of General Internal Medicine > Centre of Competence for General Internal Medicine
04 Faculty of Medicine > Medical Education > Institute of General Practice and Primary Care (BIHAM)

UniBE Contributor:

Rodondi, Nicolas


600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 360 Social problems & social services




BMJ Publishing Group




Doris Kopp Heim

Date Deposited:

16 Feb 2017 10:24

Last Modified:

16 Feb 2017 12:19

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Chronic symptoms; Disability; Older people; Population attributable fraction; Quality of life




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