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Br J Psychiatry. 2011 Sep;199(3):211-8. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.110.090217. Epub 2011 Jul 4.

Changes in neuropsychological functioning following treatment for late-life generalised anxiety disorder.

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  • 1Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, 3811 O'Hara St, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.



Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) in older adults is associated with neuropsychological impairment. Aims We examined neuropsychological functioning in older adults with GAD in comparison with psychiatrically healthy older adults at baseline, and we examined changes following a 12-week placebo-controlled trial of escitalopram.


A total of 160 participants without dementia aged ≥60 with current GAD and 37 individuals in a comparison group without psychiatric history underwent neuropsychological assessment. Of these, 129 participants with GAD were reassessed post-treatment (trial registration: NCT00105586).


The participants with GAD performed worse than the comparison group in information processing speed, working memory, inhibition, problem-solving (including concept formation and mental flexibility) and immediate and delayed memory. Neuropsychological functioning was correlated with everyday functioning. After treatment, those with low cognitive scores experienced working memory, delayed memory and visuospatial ability improvement and those who reported clinical improvement in anxiety exhibited improvement in the ability to engage inhibition and episodic recall. These improvements were modest and of similar magnitude in both treatment conditions.


Generalised anxiety disorder in older adults is associated with neuropsychological impairments, which are associated with functional impairment. Those with GAD who either have a low cognitive performance or report clinical improvement in anxiety post-treatment, show improvement in multiple cognitive domains. These findings underscore the importance of treatments that aid cognition as well as anxiety symptoms.

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