A randomized, controlled trial of the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy and sertraline versus a waitlist control group for anxiety disorders in older adults

Josien Schuurmans*, Hannie Comijs, Paul M.G. Emmelkamp, Chad M.M. Gundy, Ingrid Weijnen, Marcel Van Den Hout, Richard Van Dyck

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objective: This study is the first to investigate the relative effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) compared with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI; sertraline) in a randomized, controlled trial on the treatment of anxiety disorders in older adults. Method: Eighty-four patients 60 years of age and over with a principal diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, or social phobia were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: 15 sessions of CBT, pharmacologie treatment with an SSRI (sertraline; maximum dosage 150 mg), or a waitlist control group. Participants completed measures of primary outcome (anxiety) and coexistent worry and depressive symptoms at baseline, posttreatment, and at three-month follow up. Results: Attrition rates were high in both treatment groups. Consequently, findings are based on a relatively small sample of completers (N = 52). Although both CBT and sertraline led to significant improvement in anxiety, worry, and depressive symptoms both at posttreatment and at three-month follow up, sertraline showed superior results on worry symptoms. Effect size estimates for CBT were in the small to medium range both at posttreatment (mean d = 0.42) and at three-month follow up (mean d= 0.35), whereas effect sizes for sertraline fell into the large range (posttreatment mean d = 0.94 and three-month follow up mean d = 1.02). The waitlist condition showed virtually no effects (posttreatment mean d = .03). Conclusions: Our findings strongly suggest that the pharmacologie treatment of late-life anxiety with SSRIs has not been given the proper attention in research to date.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-263
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2006

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