The clinical course of late-life bipolar disorder, looking back and forward.

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Little is known about the course of late-life bipolar disorder (LLBD). First, we studied patients with LLBD retrospectively with regard to age at first mood episode, onset polarity, predominant polarity and episode density and its associations with other clinical variables. Next, we examined prospectively the clinical course and its associated factors.


Data were used from a dynamic cohort (Dutch Older Bipolars [DOBi]) including 101 patients with LLBD (mean age of 68.9 years) at baseline in 2012, with 3-year follow-up measurements available for 64 of these patients. Retrospective course was assessed by diagnostic interviews, and at follow-up polarity and duration for each consecutive episode were noted. Linear and logistic analyses were performed to assess associations between relevant factors and outcome.


The mean age at the first episode was 33.0 years. Onset polarity was depression in 44.6% of patients, with a predominant polarity of depression in 47.5%. At 3-year follow-up, 37.5% of patients reported at least one mood episode, mainly depression. Life events, somatic illness, use of lithium and other factors were not associated with recurrence during the 3-year follow-up.


A relapse rate of 37.5% in 3 years is high, considering that LLBD patients generally have a longer history of disease and were receiving care and medication. The course of LLBD can provide important information on which clinical factors are associated with recurrence. Further phenotyping may reveal unique predictors for outcome, and both course specifiers and clinical variables should be included.

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