Interested in the “fear of growing old” or “the fear of the elderly” – known among professionals as gerascophobia and gerontophobia? Or maybe suspect that you have one of these phobias?
Read on – below, you’ll find everything you need to know about gerascophobia and gerontophobia, including their causes, signs & symptoms, and treatment.
What Does Gerascophobia Mean?
Gerascophobia is an abnormal and persistent phobia or fear of aging. More specifically, gerascophobia may be associated with:
- The loss of physical beauty.
- The loss of independence.
- Impaired mobility and disease.
- Confinement in a nursing home and social isolation.
The name of the phobia is derived from the Greek geras (old age) and phobos (fear).
Individuals experiencing gerascophobia may be completely fine in terms of physical health, financial condition, and in other aspects of their lives.
Gerascophobia (and gerontophobia, for that matter) may be accompanied by the Dorian Gray syndrome (DGS). DGS is characterized by an extreme obsession with one’s fitness and physical appearance. The Dorian Gray syndrome may be accompanied by the fear of aging and the associated deterioration of physical condition.
What Does Gerontophobia Mean?
Gerontophobia is closely related to gerascophobia, but it has a different meaning. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines gerontophobia as a “morbid fear or dislike of old persons”.
Like gerascophobia, gerontophobia is caused by the association of old age with illness (both mental and physical), disability, social isolation, and end of life.
Gerontophobia is derived from the Greek geron (old man) and phobos (fear).
Gerontophobia is closely related to ageism or agism – discrimination and prejudice against individuals based on their age. However, gerontophobia isn’t necessarily accompanied by ageism, and vice versa.
What Causes Gerascophobia And Gerontophobia?
A 2014 study titled Severe Growing-Up Phobia, a Condition Explained in a 14-Year-Old Boy writes in regard to the cause of gerascophobia:
It has been stated that several limbic structures contribute to the generation of this condition: the amygdala, the septum-hippocampus, and the hypothalamus-brain stem. These form part of a system that organizes the reactions to danger. Phobias and posttraumatic stress disorder are aspects of fear that could be considered conditioned. They involve processing discrete stimuli that can be considered a danger resulting in an exaggerated response.
Authors also note that direct associations between the object of phobia and the catastrophic event that has contributed to the phobia are rare. However, in the specific case investigated by this study, phobia of aging may have been related to a danger of sexual abuse triggered by actual cases of sexual abuse.
The causes of gerontophobia may be the same, but there seem to be no scientific studies on this condition. There aren’t too many research papers on gerascophobia as well.
The Mayo Clinic also points out genetics and environment as possible triggers for phobias.
Modern media may be contributing to – if not causing – phobias of aging too by overemphasizing the value of youth. Here’s what HuffPost writes in this regard:
Sensing a pattern? We see it all the time in the media: Hyped-up lists of successful people categorized by age — but always under 40 — with brownie points given to the youngest wunderkinds of the bunch. And in every magazine profile, whether about an actress or an investment banker, the subject’s youth is presented as a badge of honor. “He took the helm at just 26, becoming the youngest CEO in the company’s history…,” “She published her first novel at 23,” or “She earned her MBA from Harvard by 25.”
Furthermore, HuffPost indicates that although American culture has “long fetishized youth in terms of physical appearance”, cultural obsession with youth has recently shifted its focus more to success.
HuffPost then cites an excerpt from the introduction of the 2014 Forbes 30 Under 30 list, demonstrating how media can reinforce obsession with youth:
This is the time to be young and ambitious. Never before has youth been such an advantage.
People should be encouraged to pursue their dreams, writes HuffPost, but “Under 30” lists may promote unhealthy views of youth and aging and may put immense pressure on those who haven’t managed to become millionaires by the age of 30.
As a word of encouragement, HuffPost mentions a few benefits of older age. Among other things, older people may be happier because they can enjoy ordinary pleasures, while younger people tend to seek out unusual experiences.
Additionally, HuffPost mentions a Harvard study where researchers found out that the key to a happy life is loving and supportive relationships. They also determined that money and power don’t correlate to greater happiness, although they are substantial components of one’s satisfaction with life.
Robert Harrison, a professor of Italian literature at Stanford University, also remarked that in terms of views of youth, modern society occupies a special place in human history:
For the first time in human history, “The young have become a model of emulation for the older population, rather than the other way around,” Harrison said.
Coupled with traumatic experiences and abnormal biological changes, the praise of youth in modern media may be a momentous factor in the development and reinforcement of gerascophobia and gerontophobia.
Who Can Experience Gerascophobia Or Gerontophobia?
Gerascophobia and gerontophobia appear not to be constrained to any certain age range – anyone can experience it. The study Severe Growing-Up Phobia, a Condition Explained in a 14-Year-Old Boy we referenced earlier investigated the case of a 14 years old boy who was extremely negatively viewing any signs of development and aging in himself.
The boy has considered undergoing surgeries to hide physical signs of growth, and he would also not each much because “according to his own research, food contains nutrients needed for physical development”.
How Do You Know If You Have Gerascophobia Or Gerontophobia?
Identifying and diagnosing gerascophobia or gerontophobia may be challenging.
According to Healthline, phobias are commonly accompanied by panic attacks. These panic attacks are characterized by symptoms like:
- Pounding or racing heart.
- Shortness of breath.
- Rapid speech or inability to speak.
- Trembling or shaking.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Profuse sweating.
Healthline notes that the presence of panic attacks isn’t a prerequisite for the accurate diagnosis of phobias.
Aside from physical symptoms, phobias may cause certain reactions in an individual, such as:
- An immediate feeling of intense fear, anxiety, or panic when exposed to the object of phobia or even at the mere thought of it.
- Awareness that the phobia is unreasonable or exaggerated with no ability to control it.
- Worsening anxiety as the object or situation of phobia approaches you closer.
- Doing everything possible to avoid the object of phobia.
- Difficulties with normal functioning due to the phobia.
- Physical reactions to the object of your phobia.
Many people are fully aware of their phobias and choose to live with them, taking care to avoid the object of their fears. However, when it comes to gerascophobia or gerontophobia, the phobia object obviously isn’t easily avoidable.
If gerascophobia or gerontophobia significantly disrupt your day-to-day life, you should address a doctor for accurate diagnosis and treatment.
How Do I Get Rid Of My Fear Of Aging?
Several methods of phobia treatment exist. The Mayo Clinic points out psychotherapy, medications, lifestyle & home remedies, and coping.
Psychotherapy is conducted by a mental health professional. There are two common forms of psychotherapy:
- Exposure therapy. Exposure therapy focuses on changing your reaction to the phobia object or situation via repeated exposure to it. This is considered the best form of treatment for phobias.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT combines exposure with other techniques to help you obtain a different view of your phobia object.
Medication-wise, beta blockers and sedatives may be used. Beta blockers block the stimulating effects of adrenaline, such as increased pulse, shaking voice & limbs, or elevated blood pressure. Sedatives are used to decrease the amount of experienced anxiety.
Home remedies and lifestyle changes
You may also employ the following home remedies to treat gerascophobia or gerontophobia:
- Mindfulness strategies to help you tolerate anxiety and reduce avoidance.
- Relaxation techniques like yoga or deep breathing to reduce anxiety and stress.
- Physical activity and exercise to manage anxiety.
In addition to the treatments from above, you should also try not to avoid aging or old people. Generally, staying near situations or objects of phobia helps with managing fears.
Make sure to reach out to your family, friends, or support groups as well to help you wade your way through the phobia. Additionally, ensure that other aspects of your life – most importantly, your health – are taken care of.
Self-treatment of phobias can go a long way, but if gerascophobia or gerontophobia are too disruptive for your own good, consider addressing a mental health professional.
Additionally, don’t focus on the negatives of aging and recognize that there are many advantages to old age. We have a few posts outlining those – find links below.