This past September, the US Preventive Services Task Force issued a warning that adults should be screened for anxiety, in response to anxiety becoming the most common psychological disorder in the United States. This is a troubling statistic as anxiety diminishes quality of life and elevates rates of disability. However, the prominent panel of experts left out one group in their recommendation for anxiety screening: older adults (65 and better). They cited insufficient evidence between the relationship of older adults and anxiety.
This gap in evidence between older adults and anxiety seemingly traces back not to the lack of anxiety in later life―the task force recognizes that many older adults experience mental health concerns like anxiety―but to the difficulty in evaluating older adults using standard anxiety screeners, as they are unreliable for this age group. The task force calls for more research to be done on anxiety screening methods for those over 65. Still, other researchers and doctors who work with older adults struggling with anxiety claim it’s a well-known fact that anxiety isn’t uncommon in this age group, but that very effective treatments exist. Researchers cite evidence from 2020 stating that up to 15% of older adults had an anxiety disorder. This number is harrowing, as other recent research found that in this group, anxiety is related to stroke, heart failure, and neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia.
As the task force works on its final recommendations, which are expected later this year, researchers around the world seem to double down on the link between anxiety and older adults being larger than we suspect. But the future is not bleak. Drug medication may be difficult to navigate with older adults who may have complicated interactions with their other medication. But non-drug therapies like psychotherapy, yoga, and music therapy can all function as a first line of defense for anxiety treatment for these individuals.
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Graham, J. (March 6, 2023). Older People With Anxiety Frequently Don’t Get Help. Here’s Why. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/06/health/older-people-anxiety-help-khn-partner-wellness/index.html