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A short screen for depression: the AB Clinician Depression Screen (ABCDS)

  • D. William Molloy (a1) (a2), Timothy I. Standish (a1) (a2), Sacha Dubois (a3) (a4) and Alwin Cunje (a5)


Background: Depression is common in elderly people but physicians may not screen for it because of the length of time required by current screening instruments. We have developed a short screening instrument for depression for use in elderly people with normal cognition, mild cognitive impairment or early dementia.

Methods: Participants were aged 55 years or more, had scored 20 or more on the standardized Mini-mental State Examination (SMMSE) and had been referred to a specialist geriatric outpatient memory clinic. Scores on the 30-item Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) were analyzed. A composite GDS score, consisting of the top five individual question scores that correlated to depression (GDS ≥ 14), were analyzed using a receiver operating curve analysis.

Results: There were 810 patients with SMMSE scores of 20 or greater, of whom 202 (24.9%) scored 14 or more on the GDS, indicating depression. GDS question 16, “Do you often feel downhearted and blue?,” had the highest correlation with the overall scores of 14 or more on the 30-point instrument (r = 0.64, p < 0.001). The next four questions with the highest correlates were Q10, “Do you often feel helpless?” (r = 0.56, p < 0.001), Q3, “Do you feel that your life is empty?” (r = 0.54, p < 0.001), Q9, “Do you feel happy most of the time?” (r = 0.52, p < 0.001), and Q1, “Are you basically satisfied with your life?” (r = 0.50, p < 0.001). The negative predictive value of “Do you often feel downhearted and blue?” answered negatively for depression was 96%. These five questions were used as a short screening instrument. The positive predictive value of four or five positive responses was 97%. These data were not significantly different whether the patient's SMMSE score was 20–25 or 26–30.

Conclusions: The AB Clinician Depression Screen (ABCDS), comprising five questions, can rapidly identify patients with depression or eliminate that diagnosis. In this population, these five questions may be used instead of the longer 30-question GDS scale.


Corresponding author

Correspondence should be addressed to: D. W. Molloy, St. Peter's Centre for Studies in Aging, 88 Maplewood Avenue, Hamilton, Ontario L8M 1W9, Canada. Phone: +1 905 777 3837 ext. 12440; Fax: +1 905 575 5121. Email:


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