The word Gerascophobia is derived from Greek ‘tha geraso’ which is a phrase that means ‘I am getting old’ and phobos meaning dread or deep fear.
To an extent, most of us are afraid of growing old. No one wants to lose their youthfulness, develop wrinkles and face other health problems that are inevitable with age. Right since the dawn of mankind, humans have been searching for the mythical “fountain of youth”. The tales and exploits of Spanish and American explorers in search of the waters of this fountain are quite well known.
In extreme cases of Gerascophobia the sufferer experiences persistent, irrational and constant fear of getting old. This fear can lead to several consequences including interference with social and personal life, lost job opportunities and almost every other daily aspect. Often, the phobic realizes that the fear is unwarranted but s/he is completely powerless over it.
Causes of Gerascophobia
Why does one fear of aging? Often, to ‘normal’ people, it may seem quite odd that one can fear such a natural phenomenon. However, the fear of getting old phobia actually tends to have deeper roots.
Most common underlying factor behind such a fear is anxiety. By nature, Gerascophobic individuals are anxious or high strung. They tend to have certain underlying health issues, which may or may not include hormonal imbalances, adrenal insufficiency, thyroid related problems and so on.
In the United States, hundreds of thousands of elderly people live alone. The fear of getting old, and being unable to care for self or falling down and not being able to get up or call out for help etc can terrify the phobic..
Getting old also means retirement, death of near and dear ones etc. The thought of losing a spouse, losing one’s income, not being able to support self or loved ones financially are depressing thoughts that may lead to the phobia.
Gerascophobia can also be attributed to firsthand or secondhand negative experiences related to aging. The phobic might have seen the difficulties faced after getting old. Possibly, his parent might have developed debilitating conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, AMD or other age related degeneration. They even might have been sent to a retirement home or required full time assistance. Growing old thus translates to becoming dependent on others, losing one’s self esteem and “being weak”. All these factors play heavily on the phobic’s mind.
Symptoms of the fear of getting old phobia
Different people have different reactions to the fear of getting old phobia. Some are so overwhelmed by the thought of aging that it leads to a full blown anxiety/panic attack with following symptoms:
- Feeling dizzy, fainting
- Shaking, shivering, developing chills
- Thoughts of death or dying,
- Palpitations and rapid breathing
- Inability to think or express oneself clearly- feeling disconnected with reality
- Feeling total loss of control- feeling as if one is going mad.
Naturally, all these symptoms can greatly affect one’s day-to-day life and cause one to become completely withdrawn and depressed. Excessive worrying also leads to stress which can cause health problems like high blood pressure or heart disease. Naturallt, the phobia affects one’s personal and professional lives.
Treatment for the phobia
It is completely possible to get over Gerascophobia using a combination of self help techniques and medical intervention. However, the cure for this phobia mainly depends on how the phobic accepts aging as a natural part of life.
Few of the recommended therapies for overcoming the fear of getting old include:
Exposure therapy– This is closely related to CBT or cognitive behavior therapy. It includes 5 steps-Evaluation, Feedback, Developing fear hierarchy, Exposure and Building upon the rationalization steps. CBT or Exposure therapists help the patient rethink his thoughts and responses about getting old in order to control them better. Exposure may also include, in varying degrees, stimuli that involve seeing pictures or videos about old age and then using the flooding technique to overcome the Gerascophobia once and for all.
Energy Psychology or the Emotional Freedom Technique- This is a form of acupuncture therapy without needles. It helps get to the bottom of the phobia by removing negative association with getting old.
Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy are two other techniques of overcoming Gerascophobia once and for all.
The phobic’s loved ones should also support the individual as much as possible. Self help techniques like yoga, meditation, positive visualization along with modern medications can also help overcome the fear to a great extent. Many modern techniques and remedies are similar to the mythical fountain of youth; they are proven to help retain one’s beauty and health longer. That being said; it is essential to accept aging as a natural process and consider life as a gift. By aging gracefully, living for others and finding one’s passions in the form of good books, drama, art etc one can look at things in a positive manner and overcome the fear of getting old.