Background: There are age-related differences in the manifestation of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) symptoms and their associated impact on psychosocial and functional status. However, it remains unclear whether specific symptoms (or symptom patterns) are of comparable clinical significance across different functional domains.
Methods: A sample of 865 self-reported worriers (aged 60 years and older) who endorsed GAD screening questions in the Alcohol Use Disorder and Associated Disabilities Interview Schedule, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition, were derived from Wave 1 of the National Epidemiological Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions.
Results: Being easily fatigued was significantly associated with occupational disability and a functional disability variable (restricting usual activity in any way). Irritability was significantly associated with social friction (arguments with friends, family, or colleagues) and a functional disability variable (found was unable to do something wanted to do), and poor self-perceived health was also associated with the same functional disability variable. Excessive worry, despite being among the least reported symptoms, was significantly associated with distress.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that individual GAD symptoms are differentially associated with aspects of clinical significance relevant to daily life, such as social, occupational, and functional ability. The differential impact of individual symptoms on functional status may be diluted when using symptom sum scores. A nuanced approach to assessing the clinical significance of individual GAD symptoms in older adults may be fruitful for efforts aimed at early detection and treatment.