Anxiety is a word that is often heard, but many people might not fully understand what it is and how it can manifest in their lives or their loved ones. Anxiety takes form in many different ways and within all age groups. Our skilled nursing team explains.
What Is Anxiety in Older Adults?
Anxiety in the elderly can result in mental and physical symptoms or behaviors and often has root causes related to age-specific life events. Noticing an alarming change or repetitive behavior in loved ones can be worrying, but there are ways to identify and treat symptoms of anxiety in elderly persons.
How Is Anxiety in the Elderly Different Than General Anxiety?
While anxiety can appear in any age group, it often looks very different in elderly populations. On average, roughly 3 to 14 percent of adults meet the criteria for an undiagnosed anxiety disorder.1 Even more alarming, many undiagnosed adults believe that the negative toll of anxiety in their lives is a part of who they are or is out of their control.
Anxiety in the elderly can develop for many reasons including:
- The loss of a loved one
- Changes in medication or dosage
- Increase in substances such as alcohol
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What Are Common Types of Anxiety Disorders in the Elderly?
Anxiety disorders can have varying side effects, sometimes leading to health problems that might go unnoticed, so it’s essential to distinguish between the different types and the related symptoms. Here are common types of anxiety disorders.
1. General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
One of the most common anxiety disorders2 is General Anxiety Disorder. This is a chronic, exaggerated worry about daily activities or life events. Generally lasting around six months, but may continue for longer.
Phobia is characterized by intense irrational and disabling fear of something that poses little to no danger to them. A phobia can lead to avoidance of particular objects or situations.
3. Panic Disorder
Panic disorders usually take the form of panic attacks or sudden feelings of fear or terror that are reoccurring and usually without warning.
4. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD is the presence of recurring unwanted thoughts or rituals that people feel they have no control over. Rituals can take the form of handwashing, constant checking, counting, or cleaning.
5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder following a traumatic injury or event. PTSD can develop months or even years after the traumatic event. Examples of events that can lead to the development of PTSD are abuse, violence, natural disasters, or any other threat to a person’s mental health or physical health.
What Are Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety in Elderly Adults?
Symptoms of anxiety in elderly adults will change depending on the type of anxiety disorder. Some signs of anxiety are shared among other anxiety disorders, such as general anxiety disorder or panic disorder.
Symptoms of anxiety in elderly adults can manifest over time, at specific parts of the day, cause increased anxiety in elderly at night, and include various triggers. Some of the most common symptoms of anxiety in elderly adults are:
- New or continued avoidance of activities, spaces, environments, or situations they previously enjoyed
- Not wanting to leave their house
- Obsessive thoughts, rituals, or actions
- Forgetfulness or irritability
- Irrational thoughts
- Digestion problems, abdominal pain, or chest pain
- Headaches and confusion
- Muscle tension or soreness
- Eye or vision impairment
- Difficulty breathing
- Sweating or nausea
- Shakiness or a feeling of panic
- Dizziness and confusion
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Are There Anxiety Treatment Options for the Elderly?
There are several different options of treatment for anxiety in elderly adults. The two most effective treatments to help combat and manage anxiety is a combination of therapy and medications.
Therapy under a medical health professional will provide the best understanding of a person’s anxiety, symptoms, the root cause, and the necessary skills to make anxiety more manageable and improve quality of life.
Medications intended to treat anxiety will not cure or get rid of it on their own. However, in tandem with therapy, anti-anxiety medications are an effective means to suppress the symptoms of anxiety while learning how to cope.
Utilizing family or social groups for support can also be a great addition to relieving and treating anxiety.
When Should You Seek Help for a Loved One’s Anxiety?
It can be disarming to notice a loved one exhibiting worrying behaviors, especially if symptoms have worsened or recently developed. If a loved one is showing any signs of anxiety, it is a good idea to lead them in the direction of professional help.
When considering seeking help for a loved one, an excellent place to start is having a conversation about the symptoms and changes in behavior.
How To Have a Conversation About Anxiety
When having a conversation about seeking help for a loved one’s anxiety, keep these guidelines in mind:
1. Stay Calm
Maintain a tone of calmness and reassurance and acknowledge their fears.
2. Be supportive
Let them know you support them as much as possible without supporting any irrational beliefs.
3. Offer assistance
Offer to get them help from a physician or mental health professional.
Remember, anxiety is fairly common and often left undiagnosed. Reassure your loved one that there is no shame in seeking the help of trained physicians and mental health services.
Mental Health and Anxiety in Older Adults
In most cases, anxiety in elderly adults is recognizable, treatable, and manageable. But if left undiagnosed, it can take a strenuous toll on a person’s ability to live an enjoyable and full life. Regardless of how anxiety develops, knowing the signs and symptoms is the best way to ensure they get the help they need.
Haven Health is committed to compassionate, professional, and effective care for the elderly and those in need of skilled nursing care. Contact us today for more information.
1Mental Health America. Anxiety in Older Adults. Retrieved 19 April 2022.
2Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Older Adults. Retrieved 19 April 2022.