Elderly Mental Health Problems Often Missed More
Older Adults Affected by Anxiety Disorders Than Depression
May 22, 2006 -- Anxiety may affect twice as many older adults as depression, according to new research.
Researchers say generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) may be the most common
mental disorder among the elderly, although little is known about how to treat
the disorder among older adults.
"Studies have shown that generalized anxiety disorder is more common in
the elderly, affecting 7% of seniors, than depression, which affects about 3%
of seniors. Surprisingly, there is little research that has been done on this
disorder in the elderly," says researcher Eric J. Lenze, MD, assistant
professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in
a news release.
"Due to the lack of evidence, doctors often think that this disorder is
rare in the elderly or that it is a normal part of aging, so they don't diagnose or treat anxiety in
their older patients, when, in fact, anxiety is quite common in the elderly and
can have a serious impact on quality of life," says Lenze.
Anxiety in the Elderly
Lenze has published work on the topic of treatment for anxiety disorders
among older adults and presented an overview of the issue this week at the
Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in Toronto.
Researchers say it’s normal for older adults to worry more about things like
deteriorating health and financial concerns as they age, but elderly with
generalized anxiety disorder worry excessively about routine events and
activities for six months or more.
This constant state of worry and anxiousness may seriously affect older
people’s quality of life by causing them to limit their daily activities and
have difficulty sleeping. If untreated, GAD may also lead to depression. Other
conditions considered anxiety disorders include phobias, panic disorder, and
obsessive compulsive disorder.
Lenze says a small study showed that treating generalized anxiety disorder
with one selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) was equally effective at
treating adults over age 60 with the disorder compared with younger adults.
Older adults who took the SSRI for eight months reported an overall improvement
in symptoms and quality of life.
But Lenze says doctors can’t assume the same drugs used to treat GAD in
younger adults will always work in older adults and more research is needed to
determine the effects of these drugs in the elderly.
"Anxiety in people over age 60 might have some similarities to anxiety
in those younger, but it also has marked differences. We can't just assume that
we can treat the two age groups the same," says Lenze. "We are decades
behind where we need to be in terms of research and treatments for anxiety in
this older age group."
The symposium where Lenze presented his overview was sponsored by Forest
Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Lenze receives grant support from Forest Laboratories,
Inc., Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development, LLC, and