The validity and applicability of two existing staging models reflecting illness progression have been studied in bipolar disorder (BD) in adults, but not in older adult populations. Staging model A is primarily defined by the number and recurrence of mood episodes, model B is defined by the level of inter-episodic functioning. This study aimed to explore the applicability, dispersion, and concordance of, and associations with clinical markers in these two staging models in older-age bipolar disorder (OABD).
Using cross-sectional data from the Dutch Older Bipolars study, OABD outpatients (N = 126, ≥50 years) were staged using models A and B. Dispersion over the stages and concordance between the models were assessed. Associations were explored between model stages and clinical markers (familial loading, childhood abuse, illness duration, episode density, treatment resistance, Mini-Mental State Examination, and composite cognitive score).
Ninety subjects could be assigned to model A, 111 to model B, 80 cases to both. The majority (61%) had multiple relapses (model A, stage 3C) but were living independently (model B, stage I-III). Concordance between models was low. For model A, the markers childhood abuse, illness duration, and episode density significantly increased over subsequent stages. Model B was not associated with a significant change in any marker.
Assigning stages to OABD subjects was possible for both models, with age-related adjustments for model B. Model B as currently operationalized may be less suitable for OABD or may measure different aspects of illness progression, reflected by its low correspondence with model A and lack of associated clinical markers.