The Silent Intruder of the Lives of Seniors; Anxiety Silent Intruder of the Lives of Seniors; Anxiety

Have you ever experienced heightened uneasiness, persistent sleep issues, depression, or continuous concerns about most things? All of these things can often indicate the presence of anxiety. Anxiety varies based on the person experiencing it. Chronic medical conditions such as cardiovascular ailments and diabetes, feelings of diminished health, disruptions in sleep patterns, medication-induced side effects, and even different life events can all contribute to the development of anxiety. In reality, anxiety is impartial to age, and it impacts not only emotional well-being but also physical health. The problem is that not a lot of seniors or anyone regardless of age know how to properly deal with it.

Anxiety presents a lot of uncertainties in life and no, it doesn’t discriminate by age. It can actually become an uninvited and often unexpected part of anyone’s life as we age although it’s not a normal part of getting older. The surprising reality is that many seniors silently deal with anxiety alone, with only a fraction receiving the help they truly deserve. A lot of this is because many seniors don’t know how detrimental anxiety can be to other aspects of their health and may not be aware of treatments and prevention resources. 

Let’s take a closer look at senior anxiety, why it’s overlooked, and how we can help seniors combat it and not see it as a normal part of aging…because it isn’t.

The Overlooked Alarm

Anxiety is one of the most common psychological disorders among adults in the United States. But for seniors, it’s a bit more complex. With its ability to take over every aspect of life – from health to happiness – anxiety can completely disrupt the lives of older adults

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a respected panel of experts, recommends anxiety screening for adults. However, one group was notably absent from their suggestion: those aged 65 and older. The rationale for this omission was surprising but the idea around it was that “we don’t know enough yet” fails to resonate with those who dedicate their lives to studying and treating senior anxiety.

Dr. Carmen Andreescu and Dr. Helen Lavretsky, professional voices in the field, point out that only about a third of seniors with generalized anxiety disorder actually receive treatment. This unsettling statistic is even more alarming when you consider the connections between anxiety and serious health conditions like stroke, heart failure, and neurodegenerative disorders.

Although specific phobias and generalized anxiety disorder are predominant, anxiety manifests in multiple forms. Imagine the sudden onset of panic disorder, causing heart palpitations and breathlessness, the characterization of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the lingering aftermath of things like PTSD, and the constriction of phobias that confine what you do as a person. 

Things like this aren’t always easy to get out of for older adults without the proper care and prevention tactics. Phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and PTSD are all fairly common for seniors, unfortunately though, these conditions are often hidden from view.

What Seniors and Their Families Need to Know

But why is senior anxiety so hard to pinpoint and notice right away? The answers are as complex as the condition itself. The symptoms of anxiety in seniors often mimic other ailments, making it difficult to pinpoint. Seniors are more prone to reporting physical symptoms like fatigue, chest pain, and shortness of breath which can camouflage how anxiety might show up.

So, how can seniors better navigate this? How can we bring the topic of senior anxiety out of the shadows and actually start to increase awareness. Up to 15% of those aged 65 and older experience diagnosable anxiety conditions. Half of them deal with symptoms that don’t seem like they warrant an official diagnosis but still cause a wide variety of challenges in daily life.

Seniors may brush off anxiety as an expected part of aging, but this is a misconception that can have significant consequences. This is one of the primary reasons to break down the stigma of anxiety among seniors because while anxiety is normal, it doesn’t necessarily come with aging although many people think this. Experts stress the importance of asking simple questions to identify hidden anxiety: Are certain worries consuming you? Is it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep? Are you avoiding things more than normal?

Treatments and Hope of Healing

Anxiety doesn’t have to be taken on alone. Effective treatments exist and are readily available for seniors but many aren’t aware that there are useful options. Cognitive behavioral therapy, which addresses the negative thoughts that feed anxiety, has shown promise for seniors. Relaxation therapies, from yoga to deep breathing, can act as a good way to cope with anxiety and even prevent it

For some, medication becomes a lifeline. Antidepressants like SSRIs and SNRIs can help soothe the restless waters of anxiety, offering seniors a fast way to deal with anxiety and its symptoms. However, caution is necessary with this. Benzodiazepines, though frequently prescribed, carry risks that can outweigh their benefits for seniors. Medication doesn’t always have to be the answer as there are plenty of other ways to approach anxiety.

It is important to recognize that aging introduces its own set of concerns. Persistent worries regarding routine matters, and chronic apprehensions surrounding health and the future, these things can all lead to generalized anxiety disorder. However, identifying predisposing factors for anxiety can combat these issues and this also doesn’t mean that anxiety and stress have to accompany the other things that come with aging.

The most important thing for seniors is recognizing that anxiety isn’t an inevitable part of aging and as soon as they do that, treatment can be found. Just as we tend to our physical health, our emotional well-being deserves no less.

Solving Anxiety for Seniors

For those dealing with anxiety or assisting someone who is, it’s essential to recognize that help isn’t hard to find. In times of crisis, there are multiple organizations and resources that can be used by seniors to either receive support in dealing with overwhelming anxiety or explore new treatment approaches. 

Overall, by acknowledging the presence of anxiety, understanding its complexities, and seeking help without hesitation, we can make healing, treatment, and prevention easier for seniors.