By Natasha Persaud

A type of talk therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be less effective for seniors with anxiety than for working-age adults, suggests a recent analysis of 12 studies published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Although considered preliminary, the findings raise concerns about how best to treat anxiety in older adults. A modified form of CBT along with medication—or another approach—may be better.

More than the Jitters

Anxiety is not a normal part of aging, but heath problems and changes in work and social roles, such as the death of a spouse, may foster excessive worry during the golden years.

Identifying anxiety disorders in older adults can be difficult, according to professionals at the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Many seniors are reluctant to admit when they have mental or emotional difficulties.

Self-awareness is key to recognizing abnormal levels of anxiety. Caregivers also should pay attention to signs such as excessive worry, panic attacks, avoidance and sleep and memory problems. Older adults are also more likely to report physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, rather than emotional ones.

The most common anxiety disorders among seniors are generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), phobias, and social phobia, according to background material in the journal article. During cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT, a person develops skills to manage anxiety by changing thinking, facing fears, solving problems and performing relaxation techniques.

In general, any type of therapy is more effective when a person finds a therapist who is a good fit, communicates openly and honestly, does the homework, and believes that, over time, small improvements will occur.


Anxiety Disorders Association of America

Gould, et al. “Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety Disorders in Older People: A Meta-Analysis and Meta-Regression of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Journal of the American Geriatric Society. Feb 2012.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 21 Mar 2012

Last Modified: 07 Oct 2014