BACKGROUND: Health risk appraisals (HRAs) are recommended for detection of potentially modifiable risk factors for health status decline of older people. Little is known how family physicians manage detected risk factors. OBJECTIVE: We evaluated (i) if risk factors in one or more of five predefined domains were detected in a primary care-based HRA and (ii) how often these findings had an impact on the further management of patients. METHODS: We performed a prospective observational study in a rural community in Austria and included persons (age >or= 70 years) living at home. We applied the standardized assessment for elderly people in primary care (STEP) instrument and evaluated risk factors for status decline assessing five domains (cognitive function, depression, urinary incontinence, hearing impairment and mobility/falls). RESULTS: Two hundred and sixty-four persons participated and the HRA revealed a wide range of risk factors for health status decline [from 4.5% (12/264) in the depression domain up to 31% (81/264) for mobility/falls and 41% (107/264) in the cognitive domain]. The findings had an impact on the further management in four domains: hearing impairment (100% of findings with impact), mobility/falls (93%), depression (83%) and urinary incontinence (65%). In contrast, abnormal cognitive findings lead to action only in every fifth participant (18%; 19/107). CONCLUSION: In contrast to other domains, family physicians are hesitant to act upon abnormal findings of cognitive testing. Additional knowledge is needed to clarify the value of abnormal cognitive findings for management of patients and support of their carers.
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