Background: Although anxiety disorders are prevalent in older adults, randomized controlled trials of treatment effectiveness for late-life anxiety are scarce and have focused primarily on the effectiveness of psychotherapeutic interventions. However, recent findings suggest that in some cases, pharmacological treatment may be more beneficial for late-life anxiety disorders. As yet, there have been no systematic studies investigating prognostic factors for the outcome of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and pharmacotherapy for late-life anxiety. The objective of the present study was to study long-term treatment outcomes and to explore differential predictors for both short-term and long-term treatment outcomes of sertraline and CBT for late-life anxiety disorders.
Methods: Participants of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) comparing sertraline and CBT for the treatment of late-life anxiety were contacted one year after completing their treatment, so that predictors for both short-term and long-term treatment outcome could be established.
Results: Sertraline showed a greater reduction of symptoms than CBT on anxiety (Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale; HARS) and worry (Worry Domain Questionnaire) ratings at one-year follow-up. The strongest predictor for short-term CBT outcome was poor perceived health, explaining 40% of the variance in post-treatment residual gain scores on the HARS. The strongest predictor for long-term CBT outcome was neuroticism, explaining 20% of the variance in residual gain scores at one-year follow-up. Analyses revealed no significant predictors for treatment outcome in sertraline participants.
Conclusions: Our study suggests that long-term use of sertraline might be more beneficial for late-life anxiety than a 15-week CBT program. Poor perceived health and neuroticism are predictive of less improvement after CBT in anxious older adults. Implications of these findings are discussed.