Background. Although anxiety is quite prevalent in late life, its impact on disability, well-being, and
health care utilization of older persons has not been studied. Older persons are a highly relevant age
group for studying the consequences of anxiety, since their increasing numbers put an extra strain
on already limited health care resources.
Methods. Data of a large community-based random probability sample (N=659) of older subjects
(55–85 year) in the Netherlands were used to select three groups: subjects with a diagnosed anxiety
disorder, subjects with merely anxiety symptoms and a reference group without anxiety. These
groups were compared with regard to their functioning, subjective well-being, and use of health care
services, while controlling for potentially confounding variables.
Results. Anxiety was associated with increased disability and diminished well-being. Older persons
with a diagnosed anxiety disorder were equally affected in their functioning as those with merely
anxiety symptoms. Although use of health services was increased in anxiety sufferers, their use of
appropriate care was generally low.
Conclusions. Anxiety has a clear negative impact on the functioning and well-being of older subjects.
The similarity of participants with an anxiety disorder and those having merely anxiety symptoms
regarding quality of life variables and health care use was quite striking. Finally, in spite of its grave
consequences for the quality of life, appropriate care for anxiety is seldom received. Efforts to
improve recognition, disseminate effective treatments in primary care, and referring to specialized
care may have positive effects on the management of anxiety in late life.