January 21, 2008 11:06 AM EST
I had coffee with a friend who is worried about her 86-year-old mother,
who lives in the Midwest. "Lately it seems like she's worried about
everything," my friend told me. "She never used to be this way. Do you
think she has an anxiety disorder?"
It's possible. Anxiety
disorders are the most common mental health disorders among older
adults. Approximately 11% of people ages 55 and over suffer from some
type of anxiety disorder. Although most anxiety disorders start in
early adulthood, they tend to last well into the later years. In
addition to enduring anxiety disorders from their youth, older adults
become increasingly susceptible to anxiety caused by illness or a
medication. That's because both illness and the need for medication
become more common with age.
Yet anxiety in older adults has
received relatively little scientific attention. Most of what's known
comes from studies of young and middle-aged adults, but the findings on
anxiety medications don't all hold true for older people. Age-related
changes in the absorption and metabolism of drugs tend to make drugs
linger longer in the body, increasing the risk for harmful effects even
at doses considered safe for younger people. In addition, older adults
are more likely to be taking multiple medications for a variety of
conditions, some of which may interact with anxiety medications.