Anxiety and depression in the elderly

November 10, 2010 by  

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As we age, we sometimes experience anxiety, mood swings and depression. These symptoms affect our quality of life and can have some significant on physical and mental health. Women seem to be especially susceptible.

A joint study by the University of California in San Francisco, and the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center surveyed 2,575 participants age 55 and older. Their finding showed the following:

  • 5% of participants had a mood disorder, including major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder
  • 12% had anxiety disorders such as panic disorder, agoraphobia, other phobias, generalized anxiety disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder
  • 3% had co-occurring mood and anxiety disorders

In cases where anxiety and depression occur together, the impact on physical and mental health and well-being is much worse than when they occur separately. Such a co-occurrence increases the risk for suicide, death, disability, medication abuse and dementia.

Our society is getting old and it is estimated that by 2050, a fourth of the population would be elderly. The prevalence of depression and anxiety in this age group poses a major public health concern. What is also concerning is the fact that these mental problems are actually under-reported, underdiagnosed and undertreated because many people think that these down feelings are simply part of the aging process.

Below are some interventions that can help battle anxiety and depression in the elderly.

Behavioral interventions

The Ageing Wisely treatment program is run by the Macquarie University’s Centre for Emotional Health. It focuses on finding ways to ease feelings of fatigue, loneliness, sadness and anxiety among the elderly. One of the interventions used in the study is teaching participants cognitive and behavioral skills that will help them cope with these low feeling. Results of the Aging Wisely study were positive with long-lasting benefits

According to study leader Dr. Viviana Wuthrich:

“The success of this treatment trial is uplifting as we now know that older adults can benefit from psychological treatment, and that they no longer need to accept worry, low mood and loneliness as a normal part of ageing.”


Certain medication may be prescribed to treat anxiety in the elderly. The drug escitalopram, for example, has been shown to improve symptoms for older adults with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). However, elderly people seem to be not so keen on taking drugs and therefore tended to quit taking medications early on in the study. This is not surprising because medications also bring about certain undesirable side effects.

Alternative medicine

A large number of elderly adults seem to opt for complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) to battle anxiety and depression. Researchers at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine report the following figures:

  • 34.9% of people over 65 suffering from anxiety or depression use CAM.
  • Among those without mental health problems, rate of CAM use is 26.5%.
  • When praying was included as a form of CAM intervention, the rate of CAM was 81.7 and 64.6%, for those with and without mental symptoms, respectively.

Examples of CAM to treat anxiety and depression are yoga, meditation, hypnotherapy, aromatherapy, and phythotherapy.

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One Response to “Anxiety and depression in the elderly”
  1. A hot interesting article specially for seniors like me.

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