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Helping Seniors Overcome Worry and Fear

It’s likely we’ve all felt anxious, worried, nervous or scared about something at various points in our lives. Those feelings can be overwhelming, sometimes resulting in headaches, sweating, or chest pains. Anxiety is a common condition among older adults, affecting as many as 10% - 20% of individuals over 65. However, it’s often under-diagnosed. In fact, it can lead to a variety of health issues and significantly impact daily life. Here are a few ways to identify symptoms of anxiety and the coping strategies to effectively manage it.

What is anxiety and what are some common anxiety disorders?

To put it simply, an anxiety disorder causes feelings of fear, worry, apprehension or dread that’s excessive or disproportionate to the problems or situations that are feared. Common types of anxiety disorder are:

  • Phobias:Intense fear of a place, thing or event. These fears are irrational and pertain to things that don’t pose a real threat.

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): This type of anxiety causes racing thoughts, constant worrying and feelings of hopelessness. Those with GAD don’t sleep or concentrate as well and often feel tired, irritable, and nauseous. They may use the bathroom excessively or experience hot flashes or shortness of breath.

  • Panic disorder: A person with panic disorder can experience sudden feelings of terror, accompanied by chest pains, racing heartbeats, weakness, nausea, and feelings of dizziness.

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD causes persistent and disturbing thoughts. Loved ones with this condition will feel like they can only get control through performing repeated actions or rituals.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD results from a traumatic event. Symptoms of the trauma may not emerge until months or years after the event takes place. Older adults may be triggered by a traumatic event after feeling helpless because of a new disability.

What are the symptoms?

No matter the age, people with anxiety typically show the same signs. Anxiety that lasts more than six months can worsen if not treated. It’s worth noting that a stressful event, like the death of a loved one, may cause mild but brief anxiety. However, what differentiates this from an anxiety disorder is the prolonged period of time in which anxiety is experienced. Look out for signs of anxiety disorder such as:

  • Excessive worry or fear

  • Refusing to do routine activities or being overly preoccupied with routine

  • Avoiding social situations

  • Racing heartbeats, shallow breathing, trembling, nausea, sweating

  • Poor sleep

  • Muscle tension, feeling weak and shaky

  • Hoarding/collecting

  • Depression

  • Self-medication with alcohol or other central nervous system depressants

What causes anxiety disorder?

For older adults, a number of factors can contribute to their overall anxiety. Stress brought on by poor health, grief, memory issues, fears of falling, being dependent on others, etc. are common fears about aging that can make your loved one feel anxious. Of course, it’s also important to keep in mind that anxiety disorders don’t develop overnight. It’s quite possible your loved one suffered from an anxiety disorder when they were younger, and went undiagnosed and untreated. In addition, they could be suffering from a neurodegenerative disorder that can cause overwhelming confusion.

Coping strategies

Your loved one’s mental health provider will determine the best course of treatment based on your family member’s specific needs. Treatment options can be one of or a combination of:

  • Medication. Although not a cure, medication can help your loved one keep their disorder under control.

  • Therapy. Your family member can work with a team of psychologists, social workers or counselors to help them develop healthy habits, provide perspective about their disorder and lend an ear.

  • Social support. No one should have to navigate their anxiety disorder alone. Having a support system of family, friends, and other trusted individuals you can turn to and rely on is invaluable. People within your support system could also help identify whatever triggers your disorder and possibly help get you out of such situations.

  • Stress reduction. Learning stress management techniques, meditation, deep breathing, prayer or exercise can help a person relax.

Anxiety Disorders and Presidio Home Care’s Promise

Presidio Home Care Aides understand that living with anxiety is an ongoing struggle. Our Home Care Aides are kind, patient, and passionate professionals that can encourage your loved one to engage in social activities and exercise, provide companionship, and work directly with your medical team to deliver reassuring and supportive care. Contact Us today to learn more.

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