The rates of anxiety in aging seniors over 65 are growing.
Once believed to be in decline, researchers discovered that older adults were less likely to report psychiatric or mental symptoms, including anxiety and depression, and more likely to focus on physical ailments when reaching out to doctors.
Understanding anxiety in seniors, where it comes from, what it looks like and how to help treat it is a huge factor in maintaining quality of life.
While Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is most common amongst older adults, other forms of anxiety can be found – attributed to life, money, and health situations.
GAD can be described as exacerbated worry and extreme concern that affects day to day life for prolonged periods of time.
Anxiety in seniors can be found with:
Loss of independence:
As seniors move through the stages of aging, perhaps losing their ability to drive (and therefore the ability to transport themselves places), or losing the ability to live on their own anymore, the walls can feel like they are closing in. Without autonomy over their own lives, seniors can lose their sense of purpose and find themselves worrying constantly.
Dementia, Alzheimer’s and the memory loss associated with them causes feelings of confusion and frustration that lead to anxiety. Oftentimes seniors with dementia will experience frustration with their own inability to remember or understand situations, and other people, along with unforeseen changes to their schedule or planned sequence of events can erupt into episodes of panic.
Fear of being alone:
The fear of being alone and the feelings of social isolation lend themselves to excess worry and anxiety in many seniors. Older adults with dementia and memory loss may forget that they have visitors or their loved ones are returning, and the feeling of being left alone truly scares them. Even seniors without cognitive decline might worry about being alone, especially if their spouse has passed away, and they do not have a familial support system.
Illness or injury:
A product of a fall or acute illness, anxiety oftentimes breeds within a fear of not surviving or a fear of losing the use of major faculties. Severe worry about falling again or getting sick again can plague older adults in their recovery processes too.
Recognizing the Signs of Anxiety in Seniors
Seniors will always have good and bad days
Seniors will always have good and bad days, especially as they near their 80’s and 90’s. Outside of a seemingly bad mood or curmudgeonly disposition, support networks need to be able to recognize signs and symptoms of a more severe problem with anxiety.
Restlessness and agitation can be a senior’s body expressing extreme concern and anxiety as well as difficulty sleeping, irritability and outbursts of frustration, trouble concentrating, fatigue and muscle tension. You or your loved one might not directly express worry or concern, but the internalized pressure of constant anxiety will have physical manifestations too.
Effective Ways to Fight Anxiety in Seniors
So what to do to help seniors experiencing anxiety? In conjunction with frank and productive discourse with a healthcare provider, there are practical real-world actions that can make a big difference too.
In addition to powering other health benefits like fighting heart disease and osteoporosis, regular exercise is magnificent support for the brain too. A boost in endorphin production that comes with routine fitness helps promote positive overall mood and fight anxiety. Beneficial activities that can be worked into daily routines include brisk walks outside, gentle yoga, dancing, water aerobics, and simple low-impact weight lifting.
Seeking out social connections:
Anxiety associated with the worry of being alone and loss of independence can be alleviated in some respects with proactively seeking out social connections. This can be as simple as joining a yoga class at a local senior center, or a family member setting up a weekly date to take their elderly loved one out for lunch, to visit a museum, or to see a show.
Interacting with others
on a weekly basis helps combat social isolation, and can even be done online by joining a social media platform. Facebook, for example, lets seniors connect with family and old friends, share messages, and see photos people share.
Having informed and helpful caregivers:
When seniors feel at risk for illness or injury every day or with every outing, it can manifest itself as paralyzing anxiety. Having informed and helpful caregivers, from every family member to every private caregiver, empowers seniors to stay active. Simply knowing to check blood sugar regularly or remember extra canisters of oxygen when taking your favorite senior out bolsters their confidence in being able to leave their home without worry.
Creating a fixed daily schedule:
The structure of a fixed daily schedule helps seniors know what to expect and even gives them more control over their day. Having set times for waking, taking meds, brushing teeth, eating meals, exercising, and going to bed helps commit those regular actions to long-term memory and prevents the anxiety that accompanies “not knowing what is happening next.”
Jessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living a healthy lifestyle. Through her writing, she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.