Alleviating anxiety in ageing

30 April 2020

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues in older adults.

If left untreated, they can lead to cognitive impairment, disability, poor physical health and a reduced quality of life.

But dementia also afflicts this age group, which means mood disorders such as anxiety and depression can be overlooked, as the symptoms are similar.

In 2005, Professor Nancy Pachana, a clinical geropsychologist within the UQ School of Psychology, recognised the need for a simple and reliable measure of anxiety in older adults.

“Many of the previously available measures of adult anxiety were not validated with older populations, and those that had been validated were inadequate in certain contexts,” she explains.

“In addition, many of the self-report tests that have been used in the past with older adults were originally designed for younger populations and so were less than ideal in reflecting the age-specific symptoms of anxiety.”

To remedy this gap, Professor Pachana and Professor Gerard Byrne from the UQ Faculty of Medicine designed the Geriatric Anxiety Inventory (GAI) – a simple tool that's now being used by practitioners around the world.

What is the Geriatric Anxiety Inventory?

The GAI is a 20-item questionnaire for quickly screening older people for anxiety disorders. Topics covered include feelings of fearfulness, worry, physical symptoms of anxiety, and concerns about the impacts of worry and anxiety.

The straightforward self-report ‘agree-disagree’ scale lets practitioners know whether they need to pursue a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder.

Being the first of its type available anywhere in the world, the inventory received immediate interest because it was developed to be easy to use in clinical settings.

“Our validation study was published online in 2007, and even before it was physically printed, we already had people wanting to take it up and use it,” Professor Pachana says.

“Very soon after publication, we were approached by a pharmaceutical company that wanted to use the inventory in a clinical trial.

"This was a fairly big deal as a lot of pharma research doesn’t include older people, so it was a very important step.”

Realising the potential demand, Professor Pachana and Professor Byrne turned to UQ’s commercialisation company, UniQuest, to bring the product to market.

Visit the UQ Research Impact website to read the full story of the GAI, including its use around the world.

Read the full story on Research Impact

If you would like to support ongoing research in this area, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the UQ School of Psychology.

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