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elderly woman sm Anxiety Common in Elders, But Goes Undiagnosed and UndertreatedAnxiety is the most common mental disorder experienced by older adults. 

Anxiety Disorders affect over 18 percent of people over the age of 60. As many as 7 percent of this age group have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), a disorder characterized by uncontrollable worries about everyday things. 

Despite its prevalence, Anxiety Disorders remain one of the most undiagnosed and undertreated conditions in this age group. This is due to the failure of the current model of the primary care physician as gatekeeper model.

Eric J. Lenze, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, says,

Studies have shown that generalized anxiety disorder is more common in the elderly … than depression, which affects about 3 percent of seniors. Surprisingly, there is little research that has been done on this disorder in the elderly.

Due to the lack of evidence, doctors often think that this disorder is rare in the elderly or that it is a normal part of aging, so they don’t diagnose or treat anxiety in their older patients, when, in fact, anxiety is quite common in the elderly and can have a serious impact on quality of life.

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A study done at the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Regenstrief Institute, Inc. states that twenty percent of patients seen by primary care physicians have at least one Anxiety Disorder. Dr. Kurt Kroenke, the lead researcher, is an internationally recognized internist who studies physical symptoms, especially pain, and their links to mental disorders including Anxiety and Depression. He states:

 

Anxiety often manifests as a physical symptom like pain, fatigue, or inability to sleep, so it is not surprising that one out of five patients who come to a doctor’s office with a physical complaint have anxiety.

 

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that between ten and twenty percent of the American people age eighteen and older suffer from some sort of Anxiety Disorder, so the twenty percent figure stated in the study rings true. 

 

The study found that Anxiety Disorders among patients was as prevalent as Depression. The researchers were surprised that the prevalence of Anxiety Disorder was much more common than they thought it might be among patients who were visiting a physician for a physical problem or illness. Compared to people without mental illness, people with Anxiety have a worse functional status, more disability days, and more physician visits.

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