Anxiety is a common human condition affecting all age groups. However, excessive degrees of it that interfere with daily activities are not a normal part of aging. Therefore, anxiety in older adults should be a cause for concern.
How Many Seniors Suffer From Anxiety?
It is estimated that anxiety disorders affect almost 4% of older adults worldwide. However, this figure only reflects recognized cases; many more instances are never diagnosed because of misconceptions about mental illness. Moreover, older adults may exhibit symptoms of anxiety that do not meet the criteria for a diagnosable disorder but do significantly impact their day-to-day functioning.
What Health Problems Are Caused by Anxiety?
High anxiety levels can lead to various health issues and the inability to function properly. Common disorders include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder – The most common disorder involves exaggerated worry about everyday happenings. The affected person is inevitably anticipating the worst with little reason to expect it. Physical symptoms include fatigue, muscle tension, trembling, headaches, and nausea.
- Panic Disorder – Panic attacks or sudden feelings of terror strike repeatedly and without warning. Symptoms may include heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and abdominal discomfort.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Sufferers experience recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or compulsions, which they feel are outside their control. Rituals (e.g., counting, checking, hand washing, cleaning) are often performed to ward off obsessive thoughts or make them disappear.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Persistent symptoms occur after an individual has experienced a traumatic event, e.g., a natural disaster, violence, abuse, or some other threat to their sense of safety or survival. Symptoms include flashbacks, being easily startled, nightmares, emotional numbing, depression, irritability, anger, and being easily distracted.
- Phobia – An extreme, irrational, and disabling fear of something that does not pose much danger. Such fear leads to avoidance of phobic objects or situations and causes individuals to live limited lives. Common fears: the outside world (agoraphobia), heights (acrophobia), tunnels and/or bridges, thunderstorms, social situations, flying, driving an automobile, and certain animals.
Anxiety and Depression
Older adults who have both anxiety and depression often have more severe symptoms of both. Click here to learn more about the symptoms of depression in older adults.
How to Tell if an Older Adult Is at Risk for Anxiety
If you are caring for an older adult, the following are some risk factors to look out for:
- Chronic medical conditions – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD], cardiovascular disease (including angina and arrhythmias), diabetes, thyroid conditions.
- Side effects of certain medications – steroids, stimulants, antidepressants, bronchodilators, inhalers.
- Prescription drugs or alcohol misuse/abuse.
- Overall feelings of poor health.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Physical limitations in daily activities.
- Excessive preoccupation/worry over physical health symptoms.
- Stressful life occurrences.
- Difficult or damaging events in childhood.
Is There a Test for Anxiety Disorders?
While a mental health screening does not serve as an actual diagnosis, it is a way to determine if symptoms are having sufficient impact that a medical appointment is necessary. Click on this link to take an anxiety screening in complete privacy.
What Is the Treatment?
Anxiety in older adults is treatable; the earlier it is identified, the easier it is to reverse symptoms. The most common and effective treatment combines medication and therapy.
Anxiety in Older Adults: Final Thoughts
Anxiety can adversely affect an older adult’s health, decrease feelings of well-being, and limit their ability to perform daily activities. If you are struggling to help someone with this disorder, Caring Healthcare has trained in-home help to assist you. Please get in touch with us today.