Harvard Mental Health Letter

Treating generalized anxiety disorder in the elderly

Why psychotherapy may be a better first choice than medication.

Constant and often debilitating worry — usually about routine events — is the defining feature of generalized anxiety disorder. Although it is one of the most common types of mental illness affecting people ages 60 and older, generalized anxiety disorder is often dismissed or overlooked in this population.

More than mood is affected. Anxiety in the elderly increases the risk of physical disability, memory problems, and reduced quality of life — as well as increasing the risk of death. And generalized anxiety disorder seldom occurs alone. Up to 90% of patients with this disorder also have symptoms of another mental health problem, such as depression, dysthymia, bipolar disorder, or substance abuse.

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