OBJECTIVES: Categorical criteria are not well suited to inform personality disorder (PD) diagnoses in older adults. More promising are the ICD-11 and DSM-5 alternative models. Both conceptualize PD by level of severity and maladaptive traits. Severity is conditional for making a PD diagnosis. Trait levels portray stylistic differences in PD expression. Yet, in older adults the hierarchical trait structure is unknown. Neither is the differentiation of the severity criterion from maladaptive traits confirmed.
METHODS: A series of exploratory factor analyses with progressively greater numbers of factors were conducted to examine the hierarchical trait structure in 293 community dwelling older adults. The on average differentiation of a single higher order personality functioning factor from trait factors at succeeding levels of the hierarchy was estimated with Cohen q effect size.
RESULTS: Six meaningful trait levels were identified. From the fourth trait level on the general personality functioning factor shared less than 15% variance on average with the trait factors. Trait factors at the sixth level corresponded to both DSM-5 and ICD-11 pathological traits.
CONCLUSION: A future nosology integrating DSM-5 and ICD-11 trait proposals would be applicable in older adults. Personality functioning can be differentiated from traits, so separate assessment of traits and severity is worthwhile.