Anxiety in the Elderly

April 10, 2009 6:41:37 PM PDT
We all worry. When worry becomes extreme, it can turn into generalized anxiety disorder. Many senior citizens are living with it. Until now, there was very little doctors could do for people who suffer from anxiety disorders. A new treatment could help millions calm their fears. For some people, like Joan Daues, the worrying never ends. "People kept saying to me, 'Joan, don't worry about that. Don't worry about this,'" Daues recalled to Ivanhoe.

The former Miss Missouri Senior America suffers from generalized anxiety disorder. Although she was able to control her anxiety to win the crown, off-stage, her anxiety was all-encompassing, and Joan is not alone. One in 10 people over age 60 is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

"On average, a person with generalized anxiety disorder spends about 40 hours per week occupied with their worries." Eric Lenze, M.D., a geriatric psychiatrist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told Ivanhoe.

Symptoms include insomnia, fatigue, muscle tension and irritability. The stress can increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

"Some brain changes with aging may predispose some people to have those worries be more chronic," Dr. Lenze said.

Until now, seniors diagnosed with anxiety disorders were prescribed sedative drugs that could cause problems like falls and memory loss. Now, doctors are turning to serotonin reuptake inhibitors -- or antidepressants -- to improve symptoms. After 12 weeks of taking the drug daily, 68 percent of patients said their anxiety was much improved.

Joan now worries less and is able to concentrate on doing the things she loves.

The main side effect of the antidepressants was fatigue. A positive benefit: the drugs also helped lower the patients' blood pressure. Researchers are currently conducting a study to combine this medication with talk therapy to improve outcomes.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE VISIT:
Grace Snell, MSW
Washington University in St. Louis
St. Louis, MO
(314) 747-1387
gsnell@psychiatry.wustl.edu

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