Gerascophobia (fear of getting old) is made up of Greek words Ger and Phobia, which mean old age and fear respectively. Gerascophobia is also called Gerasophobia and is related to Gerontophobia and Gerophobia, which both mean the fear of aging or fear of old people.
Right since the beginning of mankind, people have been looking for the magical “fountain of youth”. There are well-known tales and adventures of American and Spanish explorers who went in search of the waters of that fountain.
Gerascophobia is an abnormal and constant fear of getting old. People with Gerascophobia experience undue anxiety about growing old, even if they’re in perfect health physically, mentally, financially and otherwise.
They might worry about losing their looks, losing their independence, the onset of illness, inactivity after retirement, being confined in a nursing care home and impaired mobility. Modern life’s preoccupation with youthful looks doesn’t help to ease these fears.
In extreme Gerascophobia cases, the sufferer experiences persistent and irrational fear of aging. This fear may result in several consequences, such as interference with personal and social life and every other day-to-day aspects, as well as lost opportunities for work. Usually, the Gerascophobic finds that their phobia is uncalled for but they’re totally powerless to control it.
Different individuals react differently to the phobia for getting old. Some people are extremely overwhelmed by the idea of growing old that it results in a full blown panic or anxiety attack with these symptoms:
Naturally, all of the above symptoms can significantly affect one’s daily life and make them become totally withdrawn and depressed. Worrying too much also causes stress, which can lead to health problems such as heart disease or high blood pressure. Naturally, Gerascophobia affects one’s professional and personal life.
Why do people fear growing old? Often, to the average person, it may seem a bit odd that someone can be afraid of such a natural occurrence. However, the phobia for growing old actually tends to be deep-rooted.
The most common underlying cause of such a phobia is anxiety. Gerascophobic people are high strung and anxious by nature. They usually have certain underlying medical conditions which may include adrenal insufficiency, hormonal imbalances, thyroid related issues and so on.
In the US, the elderly in their hundreds of thousands live alone. The phobia of aging and losing the ability to care for oneself, or falling and being unable to call for help or to get up etc. can be really terrifying for the sufferer.
Growing old also translates to retirement, the death of friends and loved ones and more. The thought of being unable to support oneself or family financially, losing one’s income, or losing a spouse is very depressing that it may result in the fear of aging.
Gerascophobia can also result from negative first-hand or second-hand experiences associated with growing old. The Gerascophobic might have experienced the challenges faced after growing old.
Perhaps their parent could have developed a debilitating medical condition like AMD, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or other age-related condition. They even could have required full-time assistance or been admitted to a retirement home.
Aging, therefore, equates to becoming overly dependent on other people, “being weak” and losing one’s self-esteem. All of these things play havoc with the Gerascophobic’s mind.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT): This is a psychological therapy that’s very useful in treating Gerascophobia. In this therapy, the patient learns to alter their thoughts in order to change the resulting feelings.
For example, the person learns to focus a lot more on the good side of getting older and less on the negatives. This way, thoughts get less anxiety-provoking and intrusive. CBT is the leading treatment for Gerascophobia.
Exposure therapy: This is another technique in which one learns how to relax (for example, through deep breathing) when they are near older people or when noticing signs of aging in person – such as walking near an elderly individual, speaking to an elderly individual, or seeing the photo of someone elderly.
The Gerascophobic masters their fear at a less intense level and is then exposed to stronger forms of stimuli. Sometimes the stronger type of stimuli relies on the period of exposure (such as one, two, three or four minutes, etc, like the duration in which one can calmly talk to an elderly individual) or amount of stimuli.
Exposure therapy is usually combined with CBT and typically works within months.
Flooding: This a behavioral technique in which the individual is thrown directly into the feared situation (for example, a nursing home visit) to show that their fear is unreasonable. The phobia is overcome by realizing this and applying relaxation methods. Flooding is a quicker but more harrowing type of treatment than exposure therapy.
A more insight-based technique involves finding out the underlying reason for the fear (like fear of dying) and trying to sort out issues associated with this. This can involve the use of cognitive behavior therapy or other counseling techniques.
Group therapy: Having therapy with other individuals sharing the same fear or other fears can also be helpful.
Medication: Certain medications can also help treat Gerascophobia, including anti-anxiety medicines designed to relieve anxiety. Sometimes one can use anti-depressants because some of these medicines are helpful for treating not only depression but also anxiety.
Here are some tips on what one can do to better prevent Gerascophobia or the fear of aging.
Self-help techniques like meditation, positive visualization and yoga can help one beat the fear of aging to a large extent. Many modern remedies and techniques are much like the fabled fountain of youth – they’re shown to help people keep their health and beauty longer.
The family members of the Gerascophobic should also be there for him/her as much as they can.
That said, it’s vitally important to embrace getting older as a natural occurrence and be grateful to be alive. By aging gracefully, finding your passions through art, drama, books, etc. and living for others, you can look at life more positively and overcome the phobia of aging.