Anxiety Trajectories in the Second Half of Life: Genetic and Environmental Contributions Over Age

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Abstract

Clinically significant anxiety symptoms are prevalent among the elderly, yet knowledge about the longitudinal course of anxiety symptoms in later life remains scarce. The goals of this study were to (a) characterize age trajectories of state anxiety symptoms in the second half of life, and (b) estimate genetic and environmental contributions to individual differences in the age trajectory of state anxiety. This study was based on data from 1,482 participants in the Swedish Adoption/Twin Study of Aging who were aged 50 and older at their first occasion (512 complete twin pairs, 458 singletons) and had up to 6 measurement occasions spanning 11 years. Consistent with life span developmental theories of age-related emotional change, anxiety symptom levels declined during the transition from midlife to the mid-60s, followed by a mild increase that gradually plateaued in the 80s. There were substantial individual differences in the age trajectory of anxiety. After accounting for effects of sex, cohort, mode of testing, and proximity to death, this longitudinal variation was partitioned into biometric sources. Nonshared environmental variance was highest in the late 60s and declined thereafter, whereas genetic variance increased at an accelerated pace from approximately age 60 onward. There was no evidence for effects of rearing or other shared environment on anxiety symptoms in later life. These findings highlight how the etiology of anxiety symptoms changes from midlife to old age.

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