Oct 10, 2016

More Common Than You Think: Late Life Anxiety in the Elderly

According to the Psychiatric Times, about 4% to 10% of older adults experience anxiety disorders. The most common example is Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

This manifests as persistent worry and physical symptoms lasting over 6 months. And this may underestimate the problem because most of the elderly deny psychological problems, preferring to emphasize their physical complaints. Some experts believe up to 40% of the number of older adults who are physically disabled and chronically ill could have an anxiety disorder.

Unfortunately, anxiety disorders disrupt people’s sleep and appetites. The decline in healthy sleep and nutrition intake contributes to their ill-health. The stress aggravates and causes physical disorders, giving the older person yet more reason to worry. Hypervigilance against threats keeps them from leaving home, making them socially isolated, making them more vulnerable to their anxiety. It becomes a vicious cycle.

What are the Symptoms of Late Life Anxiety in the Elderly

As people age and grow physically more vulnerable to illness and injury, concern for their health is natural. To the extent it leads them to take reasonable precautions to accommodate their physical limitations and to practice safety habits, it’s smart.

However, people with anxiety disorders worry far beyond what’s necessary. The ordinary situations of life they took in their stride just a few years ago now frighten them. At night when it’s time to sleep, they worry. They are afraid of the crowds in their local supermarket. Taking their medication makes them nervous. They avoid friends and family, and activities they enjoy.

The Importance of Social Connections

However, having a strong social support network is vital to everybody going through anxiety symptoms. Left by themselves, people let irrational fears grow and spread in their thinking. They need to have someone they can talk to. That takes their mind off themselves and their own problems.

Also, when they tell someone else what they’re feeling, the other person can then give them the perspective they need to calm down and relax.

When they don’t interact with friends and family, older people retreat into isolation, which further contributes to declining health.

Not every older person has close family members, and often children and grandchildren are so busy with work and school they’re not available on a daily basis. Therefore, friends are increasingly important. Go out to eat and hold parties. It’s time to go everyplace and do everything you didn’t have time for when still working or raising your family.

Many communities have senior centres, and many places of worship provide activities for senior members.

Managing Stress Levels in Older People

Trying to understand and solve all your health problems at one time is too much for anybody to handle. What overwhelms many elderly people is how complex their medical situation is. They have to take so many medicines at some many times of day. They don’t understand what each does or what it’s for. Keeping their appointments despite their chronic physical problems. Just dealing with the complications causes too much stress, triggering anxiety.

The key is communication and education between the older person, their doctor and their caregivers and family members. What was each medication for? What were the possible side effects? Establish a simple system for monitoring the medication taken so caregivers and the older person knows what they’ve taken and when to take more.

Caregivers and family members should go with the older people on all doctor visits. They can therefore make sure the doctor fully explains the treatment and that the older person understands.

Treat the Anxiety’s Root Cause

Unfortunately, sometimes, despite all efforts by their friends and family, anxiety continues to impede an older person’s day-to-day activities and their ability to function and take care of themselves. At that point, talk to their doctor about whether to diagnose an anxiety disorder.

Older people with an anxiety disorder often benefit from:

  • Psychological counselling
  •  Stress management techniques
  • Antidepressants such as venlafaxine, citalopram, and sertraline
  • Benzodiazepines, but only for short-term use

Studies show that Cognitive behaviour therapy works as well as medication. It includes:

  • Psychoeducation
  • Self-monitoring
  • Relaxation skills
  • Problem solving
  • Exposure to feared or avoided stimuli
  • Behavioural activation
  • Sleep hygiene
  • Cognitive restructuring skills

Older adults do have anxiety disorders, and are often reluctant to directly ask for help. Therefore, it’s up to concerned caregivers, family, friends and doctors to watch for the symptoms. If you or someone you love has stopped going out or participating in social activities they enjoy, or they complain too much of their fears, pay attention. Modern medicine can help them manage their condition.

Disclaimer: Please note this information is general in natures, it’s important you seek medical advice for your own personal circumstances

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