Objectives: Subthreshold anxiety refers to a condition where individuals do not meet the full symptom criteria (i.e., the number of symptoms required for a formal diagnosis is not reached) and/or do not report significant impairment or distress in functioning (i.e., the clinical significance criterion is not met). The purpose of this study was to examine how the symptom and the clinical significance criteria may affect the prevalence estimates of anxiety problems in the older adult population and whether applying these criteria results in an identifiable older group showing more severe anxiety.
Setting and participants: Data came from a large representative sample of community-dwelling older adults age 65 years and older (N = 2,784).
Results: Results showed that the 12-month prevalence rate of any anxiety problem varied from 5.6% when DSM-IV criteria for anxiety disorders were used to 26.2% when all subthreshold manifestations of anxiety were considered. Findings also indicated that when compared with respondents without anxiety, older adults presenting different manifestations of subthreshold or threshold anxiety appear to be more similar than different in their health and health behavior characteristics.
Conclusions: Subthreshold anxiety has a high prevalence and may cause significant impairment. Both symptom and clinical significance criteria do not perfectly discriminate between older adults with or without a severe anxiety problem presenting comorbid disorders and needing psychiatric help.