The purpose of this study was to estimate the general population incidence of late-life agoraphobia and to define its clinical characteristics and risk factors.
A total of 1,968 persons ≥65 years old were randomly recruited from the electoral rolls of the district of Montpellier, France. Prevalent and incident agoraphobia diagnosed with a standardized psychiatric examination and validated by a clinical panel were assessed at baseline and over a 4-year follow-up.
The 1-month baseline prevalence of agoraphobia was estimated to be 10.4%. Among persons with agoraphobia, 10.9% reported having their first episode at age 65 or above. During the 4-year follow-up, 11.2% of participants without agoraphobia at baseline had a first episode, resulting in an incidence rate of 32 per 1,000 person-years. These 132 incident late-onset cases were associated with higher incidence rates of anxiety disorders and suicidal ideation. Of the incident cases, only two were characterized by past or concurrent panic attacks, a rate that was not significantly different from that of the noncase group. The principal baseline risk factors for incident cases, derived from a multivariate model incorporating all significant risk factors, were younger age at onset (odds ratio=0.94, 95% CI=0.90–0.99), poorer visuospatial memory performance (odds ratio=1.60, 95% CI=1.02–2.49), severe depression (odds ratio=2.62, 95% CI=1.34–5.10), and trait anxiety (odds ratio=1.73, 95% CI=1.03–2.90). No significant association was found with cardiac pathologies.
Agoraphobia has a high prevalence in the elderly, and unlike cases in younger populations, late-onset cases are not more common in women and are not associated with panic attacks, suggesting a late-life subtype. Severe depression, trait anxiety, and poor visuospatial memory are the principal risk factors for late-onset agoraphobia.