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Drugs Aging. 2002;19(10):753-60.

Anxiety symptoms in elderly patients with depression: what is the best approach to treatment?

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Department of Psychiatry, Intervention Research Center in Late-Life Mood Disorders, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.


Depressed elderly persons frequently have concurrent symptoms of anxiety or comorbid anxiety disorders. Such comorbidity is associated with a more severe presentation of depressive illness, including greater suicidality. Additionally, most antidepressant treatment studies in the elderly have found poorer treatment outcomes in those with comorbid anxiety (including delayed or diminished response and increased likelihood of dropout from treatment). While antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and tricyclic agents are efficacious for late-life depression, there is no evidence that either class is superior, in terms of efficacy or tolerability, in the treatment of anxious depression. Rather, the amount and quality of clinical management, and not the particular medication chosen, appears to influence the likelihood of remission or treatment withdrawal in anxious depressed elderly patients. Co-prescription of benzodiazepines, typically lorazepam, is also warranted in some cases for severe anxiety or insomnia, but carries the risk of cognitive or motor impairment. It is our experience that close clinical monitoring, together with maximization of antidepressant treatment (by maximising dosage, augmenting or switching agents in cases of partial or no response, and/or adding psychotherapy) will almost always result in remission of depressive symptoms, together with improvement of anxiety, in these individuals. Therefore, optimism should be maintained when treating the depressed elderly individual, even when comorbid anxiety is present.

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