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J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol. 1998 Winter;11(4):194-200.

Management of anxiety in late life.

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Geriatric Psychiatry Program, The Toronto Hospital, and the Rehabilitation Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Epidemiologic data are used as a framework to discuss the pharmacologic and cognitive-behavioral management of anxiety disorders in late life. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and phobias account for most cases of anxiety in late life. The high level of comorbidity between GAD and major depression, and the observation that the anxiety usually arises secondarily to the depression, suggests that antidepressant medication should be the primary pharmacologic treatment for many older people with GAD. Most individuals with late-onset agoraphobia do not have a history of panic attacks and the illness often starts after a traumatic event. Exposure therapy is the treatment of choice for agoraphobia without panic. It is uncommon for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic disorder to start for the first time in old age, but these disorders can persist from younger years into late life. Case reports and uncontrolled case series suggest that elderly people with OCD or panic disorder can benefit from pharmacologic and cognitive-behavioral treatments that are known to be effective in younger patients. However, it is not known whether the rate of response among elderly patients is adversely affected by the chronicity of these disorders. The prevalence and incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder in late life are not known. Uncontrolled data support the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in war veterans with chronic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder; other treatments for this condition await evaluation in the elderly.

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