Anxiety in older adults often goes undiagnosed.
Koychev I., Ebmeier KP.
Anxiety disorder in the elderly is twice as common as dementia and four to six times more common than major depression. Anxiety is associated with poorer quality of life, significant distress and contributes to the onset of disability. Mortality risks are also increased, through physical causes, especially cardiovascular disease, and suicide. Diagnosing anxiety disorders in older adults remains a challenge because of the significant overlap in symptoms between physical disorders (shortness of breath; abdominal and chest pain; palpitations) and depression (disturbed sleep; poor attention, concentration and memory; restlessness). Good history taking is crucial in elucidating whether the complaint is of new onset or a recurrence of a previous disorder. The presence of comorbid depression should be clarified. If present, its temporal relationship with the anxiety symptoms will indicate whether there is an independent anxiety disorder. A medication review is warranted, as a number of drugs may be causative (calcium channel blockers, alpha- and beta-blockers, digoxin, L-thyroxine, bronchodilators, steroids, theophylline, antihistamines) or may cause anxiety in withdrawal (e.g. benzodiazepines). Substance and alcohol abuse should be excluded, as withdrawal from either may cause anxiety. A new or exacerbated physical illness may be related to anxiety. Medical investigations will help clarify the extent to which a particular somatic symptom is the result of anxiety.