4 Steps to Help Seniors Manage Anxiety
Anxiety is often characterized by unbearable worry, phobia, obsessive thoughts, or panic attacks. But it is NOT a normal part of aging. In fact, it can signal a mental health disorder that can have a significant negative impact on your senior loved one’s health and wellness if left untreated.
Here are some tips family caregivers can use to help their senior loved one manage anxiety and get the treatment they need.
1. Know the Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
One of the first steps in helping your senior manage anxiety is recognizing the signs and symptoms. Anxiety disorders, each with their own characteristics, may include:
- Panic disorder
Panic attacks with physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, or dizziness.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Recurrent, unwanted thoughts called “obsessions” or uncontrollable behaviors called “rituals,” such as constant handwashing, counting, or cleaning that are difficult to stop or control.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Caused after a traumatic event that triggers nightmares, flashbacks, depression, irritability, or distractions.
Extreme, disabling fear of something that poses little actual danger, such as heights, thunderstorms, or crowded places.
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
Chronic, exaggerated worry about everyday activities that last for six months or more. GAD can cause headaches, fatigue, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, trembling, and nausea. According to research reported by WebMD, generalized anxiety disorder may be the most common mental health disorder among older adults, possibly affecting twice as many older adults as depression.
Although researchers aren’t sure exactly why older adults experience higher rates of anxiety than other age groups, some experts suggest it could be tied to higher rates of chronic pain and illness, increased use of medication, financial concerns, or the number of losses experienced due to aging.
2. Understand Anxiety’s Impact on Physical and Mental Health
Anxiety can be overlooked in older adults. Research has shown anxiety increases the risk of physical disability, memory problems, and death as well as the numerous negative impacts brought about by reduced quality of life.
Anxiety can also occur together with other mental health problems, such as bipolar disorder, substance use disorder, or depression.
3. Learn About Anxiety Diagnosis and Treatment
Anxiety disorders can sometimes be tough to diagnose in older adults because physical symptoms can often be mistaken for other health conditions. Anxiety may also emerge or worsen in response to medical conditions. If your loved one is showing signs of anxiety, it’s important to discuss these symptoms with a healthcare provider.
Treatment options may include medication or cognitive behavioral therapy.
4. Provide Support During Treatment for Anxiety
If your senior loved one needs treatment for an anxiety disorder, a great way to start is being there, listening, and offering support. However, for times when you are unable to be there, a qualified home care professional can help.
Hiring a home care provider can help your older loved one feel safe and secure. If your loved one’s anxiety is related to dementia or sundown syndrome — or being alone especially at night — having a trusted companion in the familiar surroundings of their home can ease feelings of distress.
A Visiting Angels caregiver can also support your older loved one’s anxiety treatment by providing reminders for medications and therapy appointments and arranging for transportation to doctor offices. If your loved one is taking medication for anxiety, an in-home caregiver can keep an eye out for side effects and bring them to your attention.
By partnering with a Visiting Angels caregiver, you can take steps to help your loved one manage his or her anxiety and treatment — even when you can’t be there in person.
Our Visiting Angels care coordinators can discuss your loved one’s anxiety needs during a free in-home care consultation.