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Anxiety and depression symptoms change over the lifespan and older adults use different terms to describe their mental health, contributing to under identification of anxiety and depression in older adults. To date, research has not examined these differences in younger and older samples with comorbid anxiety and depression.
One hundred and seven treatment-seeking participants (47 older, 60% female, and 60 younger, 50% female) with anxiety and mood disorders completed the Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule and a symptom checklist to examine differences in symptom severity, symptom profiles and terms used to describe anxiety and mood.
The findings indicated several key differences between the presentation and description of anxiety and depression in younger and older adults. Older adults with Social Phobia reported fearing a narrower range of social situations and less distress and interference. Older adults with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) reported less worry about interpersonal relationships and work/school than younger adults, however, there were no differences between age groups for behavioral symptoms endorsed. Further older adults reported phobia of lifts/small spaces more frequently than younger adults. Depressed older depressed adults also reported more anhedonia compared to younger adults, but no differences in terms of reported sadness were found. Finally, older and younger adults differed in their descriptions of symptoms with older adults describing anxiety as feeling stressed and tense, while younger adults described anxiety as feeling anxious, worried or nervous.
Clinicians need to assess symptoms broadly to avoid missing the presence of anxiety and mood disorders especially in older adults.
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