Anxiety Disorders in Seniors

From meeting a work deadline to passing a test, it is normal and even helpful to have some anxiety about the common stresses of everyday life. However, when the usual anxiety becomes excessive it can interfere with the regular activities and enjoyment of living.

In seniors, studies show that anxiety disorders affect up to 15 percent of the population each year. In fact, anxiety is more common in the elderly than depression. While anxiety tends to decline with age, there is little research of the disorder in the elderly. For the most part, anxiety in seniors is often thought of as a normal part of aging and is left untreated. Furthermore, the elderly are reluctant to talk about their anxious feelings to their families or physicians.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Generally speaking, seniors have many reasons to feel anxious. They experience more loss, are concerned about outliving their savings, begin a decline in health, and worry about becoming a burden to their families. However, a constant state of mental stress can impact a senior’s quality of life. Sleep and nutrition may be disrupted which can trigger depression, substance abuse, or other mental disorders. Furthermore, excessive nervousness can cause an elderly adult to limit their activities leading to social isolation.

The three most common types of anxiety disorders in seniors are:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Normal worry becomes out of control and affects daily life. Symptoms include restlessness or feeling wound-up; fatigue; difficulty concentrating; irritability; muscle tension; sleep problems; difficulty controlling worried feelings.
  • Panic Disorder: A person experiences unexpected panic attacks which include intense fear; palpitations, pounding heart, sweating, shortness of breath, and the feeling of impending doom.
  • Social Phobia: People have a fear of being in social situations which cause them to feel embarrassed, judged, rejected, or fearful of offending others.


Treating Anxiety Disorders

Fortunately, most anxiety disorders are treatable in older adults. Seniors should begin by discussing their symptoms with their health care practitioner. Although the elderly are usually given medications for mood disorders, cognitive behavioral therapy is often the best treatment. Or, a physician may try a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Seniors receive these medications in lower doses due to age-related changes in metabolism.



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