Family Resources Blog - Los Angeles County & Ventura County

Anxiety in Seniors

By Dwight Brown & Dan Nathanson

Anxiety in Seniors

All of us get anxious from time to time, no matter how old we are. But for seniors, anxiety can be harder to cope with as they age. If you have an older loved one who is struggling to get through normal daily tasks due to anxiety, it’s time to speak to a doctor and get a plan to help ease the symptoms before it becomes hard to manage.

What Is Anxiety?

Everyone faces anxiety in life, but there is a difference between being nervous about an upcoming meeting and fear or panic that is intense enough to interrupt daily function. For senior adults, anxiety that is left untreated can turn into paralyzing fear. They may become afraid to leave their home and do simple things like errands or appointments, or they may be fearful of being in a crowd or struggling with intense thoughts that are overwhelming. Any of these can point to an anxiety disorder and should be discussed with their physician.

Symptoms of Anxiety in Seniors

Anxiety can present itself in many ways, each with its own set of signs and symptoms.

• Phobia. Phobias can be debilitating to daily life. It usually includes a deep irrational fear of normal activities such as leaving the house.

• Panic Disorder. Panic attacks can be terrifying for those who suffer from them. They usually present through extreme fear that may come on very suddenly. Panic attacks can cause physical symptoms such as shortness of breath or rapid heart rate, fear of dying, and even chest pains that lead the person to think they are having a heart attack.

• Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This type of disorder is chronic rather than acute. The person may have a constant fear that the worst-case scenario will happen to them in every situation. The physical symptoms over time are similar to other forms of stress and can include headaches, muscle tension, and insomnia.

• PTSD. We tend to hear about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in people who have gone through war or suffered violent crimes. But for the elderly, PTSD can present when they have gone through an intensely stressful or scary situation, such as a medical crisis, nightmares, or even a long bout of depression. A doctor should be involved to help manage the symptoms of PTSD so normal life can resume.

Does Anxiety Increase with Age?

Some seniors may find that anxiety worsens with age, and others report that the aging process lightens their load and helps them see only the important parts of life. For those who have increased anxiety as they age, it can be worsened by fears about sickness and medical bills, death of a spouse or loved one, and the loss of control over the small details of their lives. If the senior has dealt with anxiety earlier in their lives, they may tend to have increased symptoms as life continues to unfold in their later years.

Treatment for Anxiety in Seniors

Anxiety should always be treated seriously and discussed with a doctor. Often, medications are not the first line of treatment since the side effects of many drugs tend to be increased in senior adults. Psychotherapy is often very effective and gives seniors a chance to talk through their problems and symptoms so they can gain coping skills that really help ease their fears.

It is normal in life to experience some fear and worry, but when anxiety is interfering with normal life, it’s time to speak to a doctor about treatment. Seniors should be able to participate in the activities they have always enjoyed without being held hostage from anxious or fearful thoughts.

For more information about anxiety in seniors, please contact us today!