Fear of Growing Old – Gerascophobia

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Maybe in your childhood you dreamed of the day you would be older, an adult, and be able to do all the things an adult or older person can do. For many people, growing older is something we can’t wait for and are excited about. It could be because of the things one is able to do when they are older like drive a car, go out with friends without supervision, and a number of other activities, but would you believe me when I say there are some individuals who fear getting old? 

For some individuals, getting old or becoming older is not so much a positive. Instead, it is seen as a negative thing because when one becomes older it means they age and become closer to a point in life where they become health compromised or are impaired in some way. These individuals that look at growing old in this way and have a immense fear are known to have what is called Gerascophobia. 

Deriving from the Greek word “Geras” which means old and “phobos” which means fear, Gerascophobia is the fear of growing old, and in some cases is synonymous with the fear of dying.

This phobia is understood as demonstrating immense worry about not only growing old, but the implications of growing old. For example, with age we lose independence and youthful looks as well as the probability of the onset of disease with old age. 

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms experienced by individuals with Gerascophobia are similar to those seen in other phobias, and typically are related to symptoms seen with anxiety and stress. Not only are symptoms psychological, but you can see a number of behaviors meant to lessen the anxiety or fear as well.

Typical symptoms seen as a result of the anxiety felt from the fear of growing old include having panic attacks, heart palpitations and increased heart rate, and sweating. Additionally, individuals with this phobia may also experience depression or a negative view of oneself and loneliness. 

Not only do individuals experiences these types of symptoms, but there can also be behavioral symptoms as well like associating themselves with younger people. With this type of behavior, individuals are wanting to avoid the lifestyles, perhaps even conversations, of individuals their age or even older since it can make them more aware of their age and growing older or becoming older. An extreme behavior that can be seen by those with Gerascophobia are physical altercations such as surgery to keep a young appearance. 

Lastly, in cases which the individual with Gerascophobia is an adolescent other extreme behavior may be seen. Due to the fear of growing old being severe and immense, these adolescents can attempt to stop any sort of physical development such as eating less to decrease the intake of nutrients. 

What are the causes of Gerascophobia?

As with many psychological disorders, there is no single cause for Gerascophobia. Instead, Gerascophobia is formed or developed because of a number of factors such as biological, psychological, and social factors that in combination with each other increase the possibility for an individual to get Gerascophobia. 

  1. Biological Factors

Factors such as genes can be a reason why an individual may develop Gerascophobia. Now, there is no single gene that results in the development of Gerascophobia instead genes that make one more prone to anxiety can make one more susceptible. For example, parental history of anxiety can mean that genes related to having anxiety can be passed on thus increasing the possibility of the child developing anxiety and then this phobia.  

  1. Psychological Factors

Additional factors related to psychology can also assist with the development of phobias like Gerascophobia. Specifically, having anxiety can make one more likely to develop a fear as one is typically hyperaware or overtly cautions of things like getting older and acquiring age related health issues. Experiences which are traumatic and/or stressful can also be psychological factors that increase the probability of developing Gerascophobia. A traumatic experience that could lead someone to developing Gerascophobia could be witnessing a grandparent get incredibly sick with Alzheimer’s disease and the impact it had on individuals involved with the sick grandparent. 

  1. Social Experiences

Not only are there biological and psychological factors that can increase the likelihood of developing Gerascophobia, but there are also social experiences that can do the same. In the previous section we discussed traumatic experiences, but general experiences can also impact an individual as well. For example, exposure to an unpleasant situation repeatedly can make one more likely to develop a dislike that can transform and develop into a fear. 

How to cope and treat Gerascophobia?

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

A go-to method of treatment for a number of disorders including phobias is the use of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. If you are not familiar with CBT, this form of treatment is a therapeutic treatment requiring an individual to complete the therapy with a licensed clinician. 

In sum, CBT works on identifying the negative thought patterns of the individual. In the case of someone with Gerascophobia, the clinician may attempt to unravel or dig up with the individual where negative thoughts regarding growing old are stemming from or why are there negative thoughts about growing old present. Methods used for identifying thought patterns can look like a few things and can be tailored to individuals depending on what works best for them. A few techniques include journaling and self-monitoring. 

Following the identification of these negative thought patterns, the individual, with the clinician, will begin working on changing the thought patterns from negative to positive and in turn altering behaviors. Techniques used to change behaviors at this stage include role-playing, goal-setting, and even problem solving. Typically, these specific techniques focus on finding a new way of coping with the phobia as opposed to the negative and unhealthy behaviors seen initially. 

Family Therapy

Another form of therapy, most suitable from young adolescents with this phobia is family therapy. This method of therapy, while not the first to be considered in some instances, can be incredibly beneficial to not only the individual but also the family who is equally as involved. 

Often a short-term treatment, family therapy is a form of counseling that works on helping family members improve communication within the family and among each other as well as resolving conflicts. With the resulting behaviors or symptoms experienced by an individual with Gerascophobia, family member may be confused about why this is occurring which can result in misunderstandings, frustration, and conflict. Thus, family therapy identifies problems, creates specific and unique treatment plans for a family’s particular situation. For a family with a child with Gerascophobia, sessions may discuss how to get through stressful situations or times which in turn work on deepening family connections and cohesion. 

Lastly, family therapy is usually a form of treatment done in combination with another treatment. Although, it is not common for family therapy to be done on its own, it can be critical for an individual to include in their treatment plan since individuals typically have some type of social group close to them which can equally impact and influence the likelihood of overcoming a psychological disorder such as Gerscophobia. 

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2022, May). Fear of Growing Old - Gerascophobia. Retrieved from https://practicalpie.com/fear-of-growing-old-gerascophobia/.

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