Patricia Gerbarg, MD
Assistant Clinical Professor in Psychiatry
New York Medical College
Richard Brown, MD
Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
College of Physicians and Surgeons
Diagnosis and treatment should start with the primary care physician. Many older people feel more comfortable talking to a doctor with whom they already have a relationship. If they trust their primary care physician, chances are greater that they will accept treatment or a referral to a mental health professional.
Success in treating anxiety in an older adult depends on a partnership between the patient, the family, and the doctor. Everyone must agree on the nature of the problem and make a commitment to stick with treatment.
Worried about an aging parent or relative? Talking to older parents or loved ones about changes in their lives is one of the best ways to find out about problems.
Ask about any changes you notice in the following areas:
Recognizing an anxiety disorder in an older adult can be challenging. Aging brings a higher prevalence of medical conditions, concern about physical problems, and a greater use of prescription medications. Some symptoms of anxiety may include headaches, back pain, or a rapid heartbeat. As a result, separating a medical condition from symptoms of an anxiety disorder is more complicated.
Diagnosing anxiety in people with dementia can be difficult, too. Impaired memory may be interpreted as a sign of anxiety or dementia, and fears may be excessive or realistic.
Research on the course and treatment of anxiety in older adults lags behind that of other mental conditions such as depression and Alzheimer's.
Until a few years ago, anxiety disorders were believed to decline with age. That’s because older patients are less likely to report psychiatric symptoms and more likely to emphasize their physical complaints.
But experts now recognize that aging and anxiety are not mutually exclusive: Anxiety is as common among the old as among the young. In fact, many older adults with an anxiety disorder had one when they were younger.