woman with anxiety being comforted

 

Anxiety is often a silent and unacknowledged problem among seniors, but it’s not uncommon. According to the National Institutes of Health, 15% of seniors suffer from anxiety in a given year. While temporary moments of daily anxiety are normal (when you’re faced with a problem or an important decision), for a senior with an anxiety disorder, those feelings are continuous and disabling. Seniors often face more frequent loss and physical pain, which may make them more vulnerable to anxiety. Family and friends of seniors should be attentive to the signs of anxiety and learn what to do when they recognize them.

Recognize Symptoms

The symptoms of anxiety disorders are often difficult to recognize. Anxiety often presents itself alongside mental and physical illnesses that are common among seniors, like depression, heart disease, or diabetes, which can make it easy to miss. To distinguish the symptoms you may need to pay very careful attention to your loved one’s behavior. Common symptoms of an anxiety disorder include the following:

  1. Physical Symptoms: chest pain, racing heartbeat, nausea, sweating, insomnia, change in appetite.
  2. Behavioral Symptoms: hoarding, overly preoccupied or focused on a particular problem, refusal to complete routine tasks, avoidance of social activities.
  3. Emotional Symptoms: excessive worrying, mood swings, depression.

Though these symptoms are associated with various health concerns, they can also be strong indicators of an anxiety disorder. These are the most common disorders among the elderly:

  1. Acute Stress Disorder—anxiety and behavioral disruptions within a month following an extreme trauma.
  2. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—long-lasting symptoms of acute stress disorder.
  3. Social Anxiety—excessive preoccupation over social interactions.
  4. Generalized Anxiety Disorder—extreme worry about regular tasks and decisions.
  5. Panic Disorder—unexplained attacks of fear often accompanied by a sense of lost control.

You should be aware of these symptoms and watch out for them during your regular visits and phone calls with your loved one.

Get Help and Treatment

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important that you help your loved one to get treatment. Start by sitting down with the senior and expressing your love and concern. Try to be sensitive since some seniors may not be comfortable discussing mental health. Discuss the troubling behavior you’ve noticed and suggest seeking treatment. The senior’s primary physician should be able to rule out physical health problems, and the doctor will likely be able to recommend a mental health specialist who can recommend more specific treatment.

 

Though anxiety disorders are common, they are not a normal part of aging. If you notice any of these symptoms in your senior loved ones, speak with a physician and help them to get the treatment they need to live life comfortably once again.