Media Releases

Generalized anxiety disorder is three times more likely among older adults with COPD

February 3, 2016

Older adults with COPD who were exposed to parental domestic violence in childhood were five times more likely to have generalized anxiety disorder.

Toron­to, ON – The preva­lence of past-year gen­er­al­ized anx­i­ety dis­or­der (GAD) for adults aged 50 and old­er with chron­ic obstruc­tive pul­monary dis­ease (COPD) is much high­er com­pared to old­er adults with­out COPD (5.8% vs 1.7%), accord­ing to a new study pub­lished by Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to researchers.

In a paper pub­lished online this week in COPD: Jour­nal of Chron­ic Obstruc­tive Pul­monary Dis­ease, inves­ti­ga­tors report­ed that indi­vid­u­als with COPD had over three times the odds of gen­er­al­ized anx­i­ety dis­or­der com­pared to those with­out. (COPD is an umbrel­la term for sev­er­al chron­ic lung dis­eases includ­ing emphy­se­ma and chron­ic bron­chi­tis.) Sleep prob­lems, chron­ic pain, and func­tion­al lim­i­ta­tions, par­tial­ly explained some of this excess risk for anx­i­ety among those with COPD com­pared to those with­out. “Even after account­ing for 18 pos­si­ble risk fac­tors for GAD, indi­vid­u­als with COPD still had 70% high­er odds of GAD com­pared to those with­out COPD,” said lead author, Pro­fes­sor Esme Fuller-Thom­son, San­dra Rot­man Endowed Chair at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to’s Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work and Insti­tute for Life Course & Aging.

The study was based upon a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of 11,163 Cana­di­ans aged 50 and over drawn from the 2012 Cana­di­an Com­mu­ni­ty Health Sur­vey. More than 700 of these old­er adults report­ed that they had been diag­nosed by a health pro­fes­sion­al with COPD. COPD is now the third lead­ing cause of death in the US.

The study also inves­ti­gat­ed pre­dic­tors of gen­er­al­ized anx­i­ety dis­or­ders specif­i­cal­ly among the old­er adults in the sam­ple who had COPD. Key risk fac­tors for GAD among those with COPD includ­ed lack of social sup­port and expo­sure to parental domes­tic vio­lence dur­ing the old­er adults’ child­hood. Old­er adults who do not have a con­fi­dant avail­able for impor­tant deci­sions had more than sev­en times the odds of hav­ing anx­i­ety in com­par­i­son to those with a con­fi­dant.

Co-author and doc­tor­al stu­dent Ash­ley Lacombe-Dun­can com­ment­ed, “Our find­ings sug­gest that screen­ing for anx­i­ety may be par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant for patients who lack a strong social net­work. Indi­vid­u­als with COPD may be prone to social iso­la­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly if they also expe­ri­ence func­tion­al lim­i­ta­tions that impair mobil­i­ty.”

Old­er adults with COPD who were exposed in child­hood to parental domes­tic vio­lence on more than 10 occa­sions had five times the odds of gen­er­al­ized anx­i­ety dis­or­ders in com­par­i­son to those with COPD who had not expe­ri­enced this ear­ly adver­si­ty. Lacombe-Dun­can notes that “the chron­ic chaot­ic and vio­lent home envi­ron­ment may have pre­dis­posed indi­vid­u­als to anx­i­ety. Fur­ther research is need­ed to under­stand the path­ways through which wit­ness­ing chron­ic parental domes­tic vio­lence dur­ing the respondent’s child­hood may increase the preva­lence of anx­i­ety dis­or­ders among old­er adults with COPD.”

Dr. Fuller-Thom­son adds that this study “high­lights how health­care providers can play a sig­nif­i­cant role in iden­ti­fy­ing and pro­vid­ing promis­ing inter­ven­tions to reduce anx­i­ety for indi­vid­u­als with COPD, in par­tic­u­lar by screen­ing for and address­ing pain and func­tion­al lim­i­ta­tions and tar­get­ing those most at risk.”

Down­load a copy of the study:


For more infor­ma­tion con­tact:

Prof. Esme Fuller-Thom­son
Pro­fes­sor & San­dra Rot­man Endowed Chair
Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work &
Depart­ment of Fam­i­ly & Com­mu­ni­ty Med­i­cine
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Cell: 416–209-3231

Ash­ley Lacombe-Dun­can
Doc­tor­al Stu­dent
Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Cell: 647–832-1004