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Recognizing Anxiety in Older Adults

Your dad was an avid baseball fan. He’s been watching his favorite team on TV and attending games his entire life yet he refuses to go when he has a chance to see his team compete in the World Series; his reasons? He might fall. It’s too crowded. He might be out too late. It’d be more fun for everyone else if he didn’t go.

Several years ago medical professionals would have seen these fears as normal signs of aging.   Now, it may be a sign that your dad is suffering from an anxiety disorder – it is more common among older adults than previously believed.

The Difference between Normal Anxiety and Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorders are different from regular anxiety. Some anxiety is normal. You have a big interview in the morning and you get a little nervous and anxious the night before, that’s normal and quite different from the types of anxiety that some older adults may experience.

Six Different Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are different types of anxiety disorders, specifically six different clinically diagnosed types of anxiety. They are:

  • General Anxiety Disorder: Someone suffering from general anxiety disorder will frequently worry about small things obsessively, things that really have no importance or may even be imaginary.
  • Anxiety Attacks (Panic Disorder): A type of anxiety disorder that is often accompanied by sudden bursts of irrational and often imaginary fears resulting in physical distress; rapid heartbeat, nervous shaking, sweating, etc.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A type of anxiety characterized by an uncontrollable need to perform a physical act compulsively (counting, pacing, flicking light switches). Mental compulsion, obsessively thinking about every little thing repeatedly generally accompanies physical compulsion and vice versa.
  • Phobia: Anxiety in older adults can manifest itself in new fears and irrational dread of things. It could be a sudden phobia of heights, closed spaces, outdoors, people, etc.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: AKA “social phobia” is one of the most common types of anxiety in older adults. It is an irrational fear when around a gathering of people. Like in the example above, they may quit doing something they love because crowds make them nervous now.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A type of anxiety that afflicts many older adults; some who may be suffering the effects of war. It can also occur after a fall or a serious injury.

Remember, your loved one may come up with all kinds of reasons for why they suddenly feel withdrawn or nervous. It is up to you to keep digging and pay attention to sudden changes in behaviors that reflect any of the symptoms above. Phobias and general anxiety disorder (or GAD) are the most common anxiety disorders among older adults.

How to Recognize Signs of Anxiety in Older Adults

Anxiety disorders often lead to debilitating symptoms. Beyond having an exaggerated worry about everyday events some older adults may suddenly become very pessimistic; always anticipating the worst even when there is little reason to expect it. Many of these symptoms are accompanied by physical symptoms including:

  • Fatigue
  • Trembling
  • Muscle Tension
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Back Pain
  • Chest Pain
  • And Heart Palpitations

Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

  • Step 1: Begin a path for open communication. Be advised that many elderly adults may be reluctant to broach the subject.
  • Step 2: Visit your loved one’s primary health provider with them. They will be the first one to diagnose or rule out any anxiety disorders.
  • Step 3: Lastly, spend time with your loved one. Often an anxiety disorder can be related to isolation and loneliness.

Talk to Unlimited Care Cottages for Assistance

Our mission is simply to love, serve, and make a difference in the lives of our residents. We have experience working with older adults experiencing anxiety and can help you understand your loved one’s thoughts and feelings. Anxiety can be common for those suffering from dementia. Our Memory Care Cottages provide a comfortable environment where your loved one will feel safe and at home. Contact us to learn more about anxiety in older adults or to learn more about our assisted living cottages. We would love to give you a tour!