A representative sample of elderly people residing in the community was examined to establish their psychiatric status. An interview with a close friend or relative, focusing on a one-week period in 1981, was used to investigate each subject's functional limitations and troublesome behaviour, these being the two components of the Social Breakdown Syndrome. The data from the sample were weighted to allow estimates of the characteristics of the general population. No cases of SBS at its most extreme were identified, and almost the entire population was found to be functioning at an adequate or near-adequate level: all cases of severe SBS were attributable to troublesome behaviour. Severe SBS was shown to increase with age and to be most common in non-white males. Persons with dementing disorders were more likely than their non-demented counterparts to show severe/moderate SBS, but in the majority of cases of SBS there was no mental disorder.
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