What is Gerontophobia?

Gerontophobiais an abnormal and persistent fear of growing old or aging, but may also be specific to a fear of old people, in which the phobic need not experience any fear of aging.. It is clinically classified as a specific phobia, which are fears of a single specific panic trigger. It may be based on anxieties of being left alone, without resources, and incapable of caring for oneself, and sufferers may be young and healthy.

Gerontophobia is also known as Gerophobia and is related to Gerascophobia (fear of growing old).

The root word 'geron' is Greek meaning 'old man' and the word 'phobia' comes from the Greek word ‘phóbos’ meaning 'fear.'

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Symptoms of Gerontophobia

  • Extreme Anxiety, Dread

  • Shortness of Breath
  • Rapid Breathing
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Dry Mouth
  • Confusion / Inability to Articulate Clearly
  • Lack of Focus
  • Irritability
  • Shaking
  • Feelings of Powerlessness
  • Obsession with the Subject of the Phobia
  • Fear or Feelings of Losing Control
  • Avoidance Behavior
  • Headaches

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Causes of Gerontophobia

Gerontophobia is a specific (or “isolated”) phobia, centered on non-social key factors. Isolated phobias tend to have some previous trauma (often in childhood and often physically injurious) as a root cause; a fear of bees may stem from an injury in childhood, for instance.

Upbringing can also play a role, such as parental warnings about a direct threat (such as “snakes can bite and kill you”) which is especially notable in cases where a threat is more imminent. (An allergy to bees or peanut butter, for instance, would naturally reinforce a real medical concern.)

It is thought that genetics and hereditary factors may play a role in specific phobias, especially those related to a danger of injury. (A primal “fight or flight” reflex may be more easily triggered in those with a genetic predisposition, for instance.)

By contrast, social phobias (like a fear of body odor or touch) are less well-understood, are driven by social anxiety, and are broadly labeled as “social anxiety disorder”.

In all kinds of phobias, external experiences and / or reports can further reinforce or develop the fear, such as seeing a family member or friend who is affected. In extreme cases, indirect exposures can be as remote as overhearing a reference in conversation, seeing something in the news, on TV, or in the movies.

Gerontophobia, like most phobias, stems from a subconscious overprotection mechanism, and as with many phobias can also be rooted in an unresolved emotional conflict.

There is some support for the idea that Gerontophobic individuals concerned with aging are often anxious or high strung. Underlying health issues may be present, such as hormonal imbalances, adrenal insufficiency, thyroid related problems and so on.

The thought of losing a spouse, losing one’s income, not being able to support themselves or loved ones financially may play a role in development of this phobia.

A fear of old people may stem from issues with parents or some specific childhood trauma, but such a specific root cause is not required for a fixation to form.

Learn more about the causes of phobias ›

Treatments for Gerontophobia

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

  • Habit Strategies To Relax
  • Cognitive Therapy (CT)
  • In Vivo Exposure
  • Response Prevention
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Group Therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Energy Psychology
  • Medication
  • Meditation

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