Background Recognition of the significance of anxiety disorders in older adults is growing. The revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) provides a timely opportunity to consider potential improvements to diagnostic criteria for psychiatric disorders for use with older people. The authors of this paper comprise the Advisory Committee to the DSM5 Lifespan Disorders Work Group, the purpose of which was to generate informative responses from individuals with clinical and research expertise in the field of late-life anxiety disorders. Methods This paper reviews the unique features of anxiety in later life and synthesizes the work of the Advisory Committee. Results Suggestions are offered for refining our understanding of the effects of aging on anxiety and other disorders (e.g., mood disorders) and changes to the DSM5 criteria and text that could facilitate more accurate recognition and diagnosis of anxiety disorders in older adults. Several of the recommendations are not limited to the study of anxiety but rather are applicable across the broader field of geriatric mental health. Conclusions DSM5 should provide guidelines for the thorough assessment of avoidance, excessiveness, and comorbid conditions (e.g., depression, medical illness, cognitive impairment) in anxious older adults. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.