Anxiety and anxiety disorders certainly aren’t limited to a specific age group. But anxiety disorders in older people can have unique properties and is often under reported in seniors. When does worrying become excessive and when should one be concerned about anxiety in oneself or a loved one?

Worry, fear and anxiety

It’s a bit of a stereotype that older people worry more than we did in our youth. We’ve learned lessons throughout our lives and understand that it’s dangerous to leave the stove on and the front door unlocked. Perhaps it’s exactly that experience that makes some of us seem like we worry excessively. But normal fear and worry doesn’t affect an individual’s life to an extent that they struggle to function.

When this happens, there may be something deeper happening. Anxiety disorders are actually fairly common in seniors, affecting up to 20% of us. The tricky thing is that many older people tend to go undiagnosed. But there is some truth to “worrying more” as we age. Seniors do tend to generally have more “normal” anxiety than younger adults. So how do we know if it’s ‘regular’ worrying or something else?

Types of anxiety disorders

Of course, for people of all ages, there are different types of anxiety disorders:

Phobias This is a kind of terror that fills a person with fear regarding a very specific thing, place, or event. Common phobias in seniors include death and dying, danger to their loved ones, dental visits, etc. But phobias may be had an entire lifetime and carry into older age. Phobias such as a fear of heights, snakes or driving are common.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder This is a disorder that occurs within a time frame following a specific traumatic event. Traumatic incidents such as natural disasters, mugging, physical abuse, rape, or car accidents may trigger PTSD. A challenge with some seniors is that they may relive an older trauma because of a new event. For example, a new physical diagnosis of being confined to a wheelchair may trigger an old trauma of when the individual served in the war.

For more information on PTSD in older adults, have a look at Tips to Identify & Manage PTSD in Seniors by CaringSeniorService.

Panic Disorders Panic attacks happen suddenly, without any notice. Symptoms may be similar to a heart attack, with a racing heartbeat, sweating, chest pain, or shortness of breath. It’s an extremely frightening experience for the person experiencing it.

Because the symptoms can be so similar to a heart attack, read here to see the difference between a panic attack and a heart attack.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) WebMD indicates. “This type of anxiety causes racing thoughts, constant worrying, and a feeling of hopelessness. Older adults with GAD aren’t able to sleep or concentrate as well. They also feel tired, irritable, and nauseous. They may also have to go to the bathroom often. Hot flashes and feeling out of breath are additional signs of GAD. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is the most common type of anxiety disorder diagnosed in older adults. “

Risk factors and symptoms

In seniors, anxiety disorders can:

  • Cause trouble sleeping
  • Lower quality of life
  • Appear with another co-existing disorder (most commonly depression)
  • Hinder the individual from asking for help or saying that they don’t feel well
  • Occur when there is a chronic medical condition present

If you have a loved one who seems to be worrying excessively, look for these possible symptoms:

  • Lack of consistent sleep schedule or low quality of sleep
  • Recent stressful events or trauma
  • Alcohol or medication/drug misuse
  • Excessive worry that affects daily schedule/routine
  • Hoarding
  • Overly concerned with safety of self or family
  • Panic regarding certain activities, events or places
  • Compulsive behavior or stringent routine

Wrap Up

Most of us have managed some kind of anxiety our whole lives. But understanding when worry and fear are beyond the normal experience is critical to our mental health and possibly our physical safety. If you or someone you love has questions about anxiety or depression, speak with the family physician or call National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). For more information on hotlines and services that may be of assistance, please click here.

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Do you have questions about how you can better support your loved one while they age in place in South Florida or regarding homecare in general? Please contact CareGivers of America here: Contact or call us toll free: 800-342-4197

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