Antidepressants might help elderly with anxiety

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has shown that the antidepressant medication, Lexapro, provides modest promise for relieving the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) in older individuals. About 10 percent of older adults suffers from GAD and experience nearly constant worry. Lexapro is in a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which likely work by balancing serotonin levels in the brain. 

The researchers placed 85 older adults with GAD on Lexapro and 92 adults with the condition on a placebo medication. None of the participants knew whether they were taking an active medication or placebo in the 12-week study. The participants were in their early 70s, on average.

Associate professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis Eric Lenze, M.D. said that there has not been much research into the medication's effectiveness in older adults. He and colleagues measured anxiety and limitations in quality of life due to anxiety, among other things.

Individuals taking Lexapro had a greater improvement in symptoms and self-reported functioning than those not taking the medication did, with 69 percent of those taking Lexapro showing a positive response, compared with 51 percent of those taking a placebo medication. However, the number of individuals who dropped out of the study affected its results, and reduced the response rate in both groups. The response rate was 57 percent for patients on the medication and 45 percent for patients taking placebo, making the results no longer statistically significant.

"A short conclusion is that the drug was modestly beneficial, and even those modest benefits can only be seen if someone sticks with the medication long enough to see if it will help or not," Lenze said.

The National Institutes of Health funded the randomized controlled trial and Forest Laboratories, which makes Lexapro, provided both the drug and placebo.

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