Anxiety & Seniors

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Mom was always the carefree ringleader of family fun. Yet lately, the family has noticed that she always seems worried about things. She wonders if she left the stove on. She doesn’t like to go to the grandchildren’s sports events, fearing they’ll be injured. Though she has a nice nest egg, she is concerned about running out of money. Everyone is perplexed about what’s going on.

There are certainly things to worry about as we grow older. We worry about our health or our financial well-being. A lifetime of accumulated wisdom might well cause us to worry about the state of the world our grandchildren will inherit.

But sometimes, seniors become so mired in worry that they are unable to enjoy life. If a senior is experiencing uncontrollable worries about everyday things, they may have an anxiety disorder. According to the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, between ten and twenty percent of older adults will suffer from a type of what can be a crippling condition. Though often undiagnosed, it has a big impact on older adults and our senior support system.

How can we distinguish between normal concern and an anxiety disorder? This can be a challenge. Our bodies and brains are wired to feel a certain amount of anxiety—without it, we couldn’t survive. Our so-called “fight or flight” response protects us when we’re in real danger. All the systems of our body go into high alert. Our hearts pump more blood, our muscles tense, and stress hormones flood our bodies, preparing us to act quickly. Those physical reactions can save us from an actual threat. But what if we aren’t really in danger?

Seniors may experience several types of anxiety disorders, which can be caused by health conditions, medications, even caffeine can create or exacerbate symptoms. PTSD is considered a separate medical condition, but can cause episodes of anxiety among seniors, especially veterans, when illness or disability trigger old memories.

The National Institute of Mental Health lists a number of anxiety disorders that may affect people at any age:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder means that we seem to be fretting all the time, with no real reason.
  • Panic disorders cause sudden, frequent attacks of fear, often with no underlying trigger.
  • Phobia-related disorders occur when people have an intense fear or aversion to certain objects or situations, and new phobias can develop as people age.
  • Social anxiety disorder is a fear of being embarrassed, judged or ashamed that can cause people to avoid spending time with others. This may increase in seniors who are concerned about listening to conversations or may be worried about their appearance.
  • Agoraphobia is a combination of fears that can lead to a person becoming housebound – and we know that social interaction is crucial for seniors’ well-being.
  • Separation anxiety disorder is often thought of as an issue for children, but adults can also develop fears about being parted from people to whom they are attached, becoming worried that something may happen to their family member or friend while they are away.

Whatever the type of anxiety disorder, it’s very important to be evaluated by a professional who understands the unique psychological needs of older adults.

Assisting Hands Columbus, OH home care professionals understand that anxiety can be debilitating for seniors—not only having an impact on quality of life, but also on health. Untreated, ongoing anxiety can lead to depression, dementia and cardiovascular problems. Luckily, anxiety disorders are treatable. Through a combination of cognitive therapy (“talk therapy”), lifestyle changes, stress-reduction techniques and certain medications, senior patients can see much improvement. Home care services can support them in several important ways:

Transportation to healthcare appointments—Treating anxiety can be a trial and error process at first, and a patient might have a number of healthcare appointments. But for many seniors, driving is unsafe—and can even be a trigger for anxiety! Family members often want to help, but these appointments take place during normal work hours, and having to “burden” family can make a senior feel all the more anxious. Home care professionals can transport clients to appointments with their physician, psychologist, social worker or counselor, and to recommended stress-management classes, such as tai chi or yoga.

Medication management—Certain medications are used to treat anxiety, but it’s important to take them correctly, and to have frequent re-evaluations so the doctor can check for effectiveness and possible side effects. Home care professionals can pick up prescriptions or take clients to the pharmacy. They can provide medication reminders and help clients use pill boxes and other medication organizers. Most importantly, they watch for potential side-effects such as confusion, dizziness or drowsiness.

Social support—Anxiety often leads to loneliness, which in turn increases anxiety. Home care can help seniors break this cycle. Caregivers provide caring, nonjudgmental companionship—and many clients say that knowing that the caregiver is a professional eases the sense of imposing that social anxiety can cause. Home caregivers provide encouragement and assistance so clients can continue to visit with friends, participate in support group meetings, attend their faith community, and go on other outings where they can spend time with others and disrupt the tendency to “hole up.”

Supervision for exercise—Experts say that to an extent, a tendency toward anxiety is inherited. But many lifestyle factors increase the risk. At the top of the list is inactivity, and this is where yet another vicious cycle can set up: anxiety makes seniors less likely to exercise, and inactivity increases anxiety. Home caregivers help clients break this cycle by removing fall hazards, providing a steadying hand when necessary, transporting clients to exercise classes, and being an all-around cheerleader as the client follows the doctor’s exercise prescription.

Help with everyday tasks—Geriatric psychiatrists report that the inability to take care of one’s appearance and environment can be a factor in anxiety for older adults. Home caregivers help clients with bathing, dressing, grooming, housekeeping and the other activities that help provide a sense of well-being. They prepare nutritious meals so the client isn’t living on junk food. And when clients don’t have to rely on family to help with these tasks, they experience an increased sense of independence and confidence.

Evaluation and proper treatment of anxiety can help seniors add life to their years. The home care professionals at Assisting Hands of Columbus, OH are here to help, give us a call today to find out how to get the support that’s right for you or your loved one.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge.