How Does Social Phobia Affect Older Adults?

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Social phobia (otherwise known as social anxiety disorder) is an excessive preoccupation with others’ perception of you. People with social phobia are highly fearful of being seen as inadequate, unintelligent, or generally unpleasant in social situations. They worry about displeasing others in conversation and being negatively judged. This can make a social phobic feel extremely stressed even in a harmless setting such as a party.

For some people who have social anxiety, the stress can lead to almost total avoidance of social interaction. These individuals are too uncomfortable with other people to go most places, so many of them will avoid leaving home. At this point, the social phobic may have become agoraphobic.

The age of onset for social phobia is in “middle childhood, at approximately age 10 years,” according to Medscape. Because of the relatively early appearance of social phobia, some people will delay treatment for the disorder for many years. For this reason, it’s important to examine the effects of social phobia on older adults.

“Epidemiology of Social Phobia in Later Life”

A 2007 study from a group of mental health professionals and medical specialists in Canada surveyed a large segment of the older population. The participants were age 55 and older.

Social phobia is one of the more common anxiety disorders in the general population, and the study shows that it remains a problem for older people as well. The researchers found that prevalence for social anxiety was around 5 percent in the sampled group of people.

The researchers in the study noted that social anxiety has similar effects on older people as it does on younger adults. The older adults in the study with social phobia were shown to have additional mental and physical other health issues.

Some of the most commonly reported problems the participants had related to their condition are major depression, panic disorder, and agoraphobia.

Major depression is a condition marked by extreme and unrelenting sadness. It can also manifest as persistent indifference. Major depression affected the greatest amount of the phobic participants. It is generally thought that the inability to meet and connect with other people is what leads to depression in the socially anxious. People who have social phobia desire close relationships, but they have difficulty forming and maintaining them. A lack of social support can make aging an even more difficult process.

The Final Message of the Study

Though social anxiety usually starts during early years, it remains a serious problem for older adults. Mental health specialists should continue to study this issue so that unique solutions for dealing with social phobia in older populations can be discovered.

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