Anxiety Often Missed in Elderly

More Older Adults Affected by Anxiety Disorders Than Depression

Medically Reviewed by Amal Chakraburtty, MD on March 01, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

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 Pfizer Inc.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, Toronto, Canada, May 20-25, 2006. News release, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

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