Elderly Anxiety Disorders

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Jeannette Franks, PhD, is a passionate gerontologist who teaches at University of Washington and Bastyr University; she is the author of a book on assisted living and numerous articles.

We all experience anxiety from time to time, some of which is normal and even productive. However, when anxiety becomes disruptive and disabling to a person’s life, it’s considered to be an unhealthy psychiatric disorder.

As many as one quarter of all people experience anxiety to an unhealthy extent, and older people can be at particular risk. Seniors may experience more troublesome anxiety than other age groups for several reasons: they experience more losses, suffer from more pain and chronic conditions, are often on multiple medications that might exacerbate anxiety, and have confounding ailments such as Alzheimer’s disease or depression.

Some experts suggest that in general anxiety is equally prevalent in all adult age groups but perhaps is less often reported by seniors, and not as accurately diagnosed and treated as in younger people. A large study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry(1998, A. Beekman) found that 10 percent of adults 55 to 85 years of age had elderly anxiety disorders-the same prevalence as for other age groups.

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