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Case One: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Case Two: Agoraphobia, Case Three: Obsessive-compulsive Disorder

Anxiety is a normal part of life, and it occurs over the entire life span. In particular, the experience of anxiety continues into later life. Just as younger people worry about things important to their stage of life, such as school, job, finances, and family, so too do older adults worry about health, family, finances, and their mortality. Elderly persons are as likely to react with fear or panic when danger is imminent as are their younger counterparts. Anxiety is a normal response to certain situations, and it can be useful in helping people to cope with problems and to manage threatening situations. Anxiety alerts us to threats and provides the physiological readiness needed for action. It may be very intense in certain situations yet still be considered normal. Figure 1 Important risk factors for anxiety disorders in elders and younger adults SOURCE: Author However, if it occurs when there is no threat, or if its intensity is far higher than the situation warrants, it is likely to be a symptom of an anxiety disorder. Excess anxiety that occurs repeatedly and leads to distress and disablement is usually caused by an anxiety disorder.

Elders are susceptible to many of the same treatable anxiety disorders that are seen in younger people. Sometimes this is because the disorder has been a lifelong condition. In other cases, its onset is in late life, and then risk factors are somewhat different than in younger people (see Figure 1). However, anxiety disorders seem to be more difficult to diagnose in the elderly population, and the treatments that have proven efficacy in younger populations are largely untested in elderly persons. The following three case examples exemplify the presentation of common anxiety disorders in older adults, and also illustrate the difficulties of diagnosing and treating these disorders.

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Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 1