A 14-year-old Mexican boy was diagnosed with gerascophobia, or a an unnatural fear of aging.
The diagnosis came after the youth presented to doctors with extreme weight loss, the result of him reducing food intake to prevent physical growth.
“We present the clinical case of a 14-year-old boy with gerascophobia or an excessive fear of aging, who felt his body development as a threat, to the point where he took extreme measures to stop or otherwise hide growth,” researchers wrote in the case report.
“He had a history of separation anxiety, sexual abuse, and suffering bullying. He presented with anxious and depressive symptoms and food restriction, criticized his body image, had negative feelings towards the maturation process, suffered at the thought of being rejected, and was preoccupied with certain physical characteristics.”
When the patient was 11 years old he started to show symptoms of gerascophobia. In addition to limiting his nutrient intake, he would distort his voice to a higher pitch, and stoop to make himself appear shorter than he was.
Researchers indicate his case was complicated by the fact his mother also treated him like he was younger, singing him lullabies and choosing his clothing each day.
Not surprisingly, without support at home, therapy for the young man with a psychologist failed and he was referred to the Autonomous University of Nuevo León, in northern Mexico.
Not all experts reviewing the case are sold on the diagnosis of gerascophobia, however. Other medical reviewers told Live Science it was possible the boy was really suffering from body dysmorphic disorder, a condition where a patient is preoccupied with a physical trait to the point of obsession. Others suggested perhaps the youth had gender dysphoria, where gender confusion leads to a fear of going into puberty and experiencing changes in physical appearance.
While all of the above may be possible, experts in the case report indicate the boy felt fear and anxiety when thinking about growing up, to the point where he considered multiple surgeries to prevent such changes.
What’s more, even though the patient’s symptoms improved significantly after treatment with antidepressants, family therapy and psychotherapy, he still expressed concern with things attributed to growing up.
“He is able to imagine the future, living on his own and working as an actor, and this is an idea he likes; however, he continues to express a fear of commitment and responsibilities that he feels will be required of him in adult life,” the researchers said.