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The Lifespan of Anxiety | Anxiety Disorders in Older Adults

anxiety_agingAt The Center for Anxiety and OCD at GroundWork Counseling in Orlando we specialize in treating a variety of anxiety disorders utilizing evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Anxiety disorders are primarily considered to be an issue during childhood and the earlier adult years, with onset typically occurring between the ages of 18 and 40 years. However, anxiety disorders are, in fact, the most common psychiatric disorder throughout the lifespan and, among older adults, they are four to eight times more common than major depressive disorder and twice as prevalent as dementia. Some studies suggest that one in five older adults suffer from anxiety symptoms that require treatment. Experts in the field of aging acknowledge that anxiety is as common among older people as it is among younger individuals. As a matter of fact, many older adults who suffer from anxiety were also anxious when they were younger.

Retirement can be a trigger for anxiety due to a change of status, loss of daily routine, no longer feeling valued and financial worries. Death of loved ones, stresses of health problems as well as other major life changes can all contribute to anxiety in older individuals. In addition, many are anxious about their family, financial circumstances, their own mortality and loosing their autonomy. Anxiety can become so severe that it becomes distressing and causes significant impairment in the person’s daily functioning.

Common symptoms of anxiety in an older individual can include:

  • Constant worrying or dwelling on concerns
  • Feeling jumpy or nervous
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling tense and keyed-up
  • Avoiding situations because of anxiety
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Checking things like blood pressure over and over
  • “What if . . .” thoughts

Of the five main types of anxiety disorders, nearly 90% of anxiety disorders in older individuals consist of either generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or a specific phobia. Generalized anxiety disorder accounts for more than 50% of anxiety disorders in older adults, and most of these anxious older adults were anxious when they were younger as well.

Anxiety disorders in older adults can contribute to:

  • Decreased life satisfaction
  • Poor awareness and insight
  • Increased loneliness
  • Unexplained medical symptoms
  • Lower compliance with medical treatment
  • Less independence
  • A greater burden on family members

Recommended treatment for anxiety disorders in older individuals typically consists of a combination of medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Research supports the effectiveness of CBT in treating anxiety disorders in teens, younger adults as well as older individuals. Studies have found that CBT is associated with greater improvement in worrying, depressive symptoms and overall mental health when compared with typical talk-therapy. Left untreated, anxiety disorders can often lead to substance abuse and depression. Relationships with family members, spouses and friends can become difficult. Most individuals who suffer from an anxiety disorder are able to greatly reduce their anxiety symptoms and function better after a few months of appropriate CBT therapy. Many people begin to notice an improvement in symptoms after a few sessions of CBT treatment.


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GroundWork Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
341 N Maitland Ave #330
Maitland, FL 32751


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Portland, ME 04101

Burlington, VT 05043

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