Generalized anxiety disorder is common among older adults and leads to diminished health and cognitive functioning. Although antidepressant medications are efficacious, many elderly individuals require augmentation treatment. Furthermore, little is known about maintenance strategies for older people. The authors examined whether sequenced treatment combining pharmacotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) boosts response and prevents relapse in older adults with generalized anxiety disorder.
Participants were individuals at least 60 years of age with generalized anxiety disorder (N=73) who were recruited from outpatient clinics at three sites. Participants received 12 weeks of open-label escitalopram and were then randomly assigned to one of four conditions: 16 weeks of escitalopram (10–20 mg/day) plus modular CBT, followed by 28 weeks of maintenance escitalopram; escitalopram alone, followed by maintenance escitalopram; escitalopram plus CBT, followed by pill placebo; and escitalopram alone, followed by placebo.
Escitalopram augmented with CBT increased response rates on the Penn State Worry Questionnaire but not on the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale compared with escitalopram alone. Both escitalopram and CBT prevented relapse compared with placebo.
This study demonstrates effective strategies for treatment of generalized anxiety disorder in older adults. The sequence of antidepressant medication augmented with CBT leads to worry reduction in the short-term. Continued medication prevents relapse, but for many individuals, CBT would allow sustained remission without requiring long-term pharmacotherapy.