Comorbid anxiety disorders in depressed elderly patients

Eric J. Lenze, Benoit H. Mulsant, M. Katherine Shear, Herbert C. Schulberg, Mary Amanda Dew, Amy E. Begley, Bruce G. Pollock, Charles F. Reynolds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

253 Scopus citations


Objective: Anxiety disorders are common in adults with depressive disorders, but several studies have suggested a relatively low prevalence of anxiety disorders in older individuals with depression. This cross-sectional study measured current and lifetime rates and associated clinical features of anxiety disorders in depressed elderly patients. Method: History of anxiety disorders was assessed by using a structured diagnostic instrument in 182 depressed subjects aged 60 and older seen in primary care and psychiatric settings. Associations between comorbid anxiety disorders and baseline characteristics were measured. The modified structured instrument allowed detection of symptoms that met inclusion criteria for generalized anxiety disorder in a depressive episode. Results: Thirty-five percent of older subjects with depressive disorders had at least one lifetime anxiety disorder diagnosis, and 23% had a current diagnosis. The most common current comorbid anxiety disorders were panic disorder (9.3%), specific phobias (8.8%), and social phobia (6.6%). Symptoms that met inclusion criteria for generalized anxiety disorder, measured separately, were present in 27.5% of depressed subjects. Presence of a comorbid anxiety disorder was associated with poorer social function and a higher level of somatic symptoms. Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder were associated with a higher level of suicidality. Conclusions: Contrary to previous reports, the present study found a relatively high rate of current and lifetime anxiety disorders in elderly depressed individuals. Comorbid anxiety disorders and symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder were associated with a more severe presentation of depressive illness in elderly subjects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)722-728
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2000


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