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Middle-aged 'More Anxious Than Elderly'


Sydney Morning Herald




December 7, 2007


Elderly Australians are less anxious and depressed than those in middle-age, according to a new study which paints a refreshingly bright picture of growing old.

A major survey of 5,000 people over 45 has found that baby boomers have significantly higher rates of psychiatric and anxiety disorders than those in their twilight years.

One in seven people in middle-age (45 to 65) have a mental health problem, dropping back to one in 16 among those aged over 65, the study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry concludes.

Elderly participants also were less likely to report having seen a doctor for a mental health problem in the past 12 months.

"This is a new and very positive view of ageing," said psychiatrist and co-investigator Dr Julian Trollor, from the University of NSW.

"The general perception out there is that disease and burden is what you've got to look forward to as you age, but we can be much more positive than that."

Dr Trollor and colleague Dr Tracy Anderson analysed national mental health statistics collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, comparing 3,111 middle-aged people with 1,792 over 65.

It is the first ever population-based comparison of mental disorder rates between the two generations.

"The overall impression from the survey is that elderly people are more psychologically healthy than their younger counterparts and quite significantly so," Dr Trollor said.

He said it appeared people become psychologically "immunised" to hardship through their lifetime, making them more resilient with age.

"With tough times repeated through life you learn to cope with adversity, which may explain why this is a mentally healthier and more robust group."

Census data shows this age group also is generally more transient, "which suggests there are a lot of grey nomads out and about living a happy and healthy retirement".

The survey showed that the strongest predictors of anxiety or depression in middle-age were being female, separated or divorced, being made redundant or in poor physical health.

Physical health was the only predictor among elderly, but this rate was no higher than through middle-age.

Dr Troller said more work needed to be done to determine exactly what the determinants of mental disorder in later life actually were.

A new Australian National Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey now underway will provide more data to be released to researchers in 2008.

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