Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Briana Mezuk


Background: Frailty, a state indicating vulnerability to poor health outcomes, is a common condition in later life. However, research and intervention progress is hindered by the current lack of a consensus frailty definition and poor understanding of relationships between frailty and depression. Objectives: The goal of this research is to understand the interrelationships between frailty and depression among older adults. Specifically, this project aims 1) to examine the construct overlap between depression and three definitions of frailty (biological syndrome, medical burdens, and functional domains), 2) to determine the degree to which this overlap varies by age, gender, race/ethnicity and other individual characteristics, 3) to evaluate how the association between frailty and depression influences prediction of adverse health outcomes. Methods: This project uses data from the 2004-2012 Health and Retirement Study (HRS), an ongoing, nationally-representative cohort study of adults over the age of 55. Frailty was indexed by three alternative conceptual models: 1) biological syndrome, 2) cumulative medical burdens, and 3) functional domains. Depressive symptoms were indexed by the 8-item Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression (CESD) scale. Latent class analysis and confirmatory factor analysis were used to assess the construct overlap between depressive symptoms and frailty. Latent growth curve modeling were used to evaluate associations between frailty and depression, and to estimate their joint influence on two adverse health outcomes: nursing home admission and falls. Results: The measurement overlap of frailty and depression was high using a categorical latent variable approach. Approximately 73% of individuals with severe depressive symptoms, and 85% of individuals with primarily somatic depressive symptoms, were categorized as concurrently frail. When modeled as continuous latent factors, each of the three frailty latent factors was significantly correlated with depression: biological syndrome (ρ = .67, p <.01); functional domains (ρ = .70, p <.01); and medical burdens (ρ = .62, p <.01). Higher latent frailty trajectories were associated with higher likelihood of experiencing nursing home admission and serious falls. This association with adverse health outcomes was attenuated after adjustment for depression as a time-varying covariate. Conclusions: Findings suggest that frailty and frailty trajectories are potentially important indicators of vulnerability to adverse health outcomes. Future investigations of frailty syndrome, however it is operationalized, should account for its substantial association with depression in order to develop more accurate measurement and effective treatment.


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Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

April 2014

Included in

Epidemiology Commons