Anxiety is a normal emotion that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. However, for some people, anxiety can be more than just a feeling of nervousness or unease. It can be all-consuming and severely impact a person’s quality of life.
As a family member, you probably feel helpless and want to do whatever you can to support your elderly loved one who is struggling with anxiety. In this article, I’ll outline 10 ways that you can help.
At least one of these techniques can end up being the best way for you to support your elderly loved one and help them manage their anxiety.
My late husband suffered from severe anxiety for decades so I know all too well how debilitating it can be. And how helpless it can make a caregiver feel.
Understanding What Anxiety Is
But just in case this is your first experience with anxiety, it’s important to first understand what it is that makes older people anxious.
Anxiety is an umbrella term for a range of mental health disorders characterized by feelings of fear and worry that can be overwhelming and difficult, if not impossible to control.
Anxiety is more than just feeling a little bit nervous in certain situations. It’s a mental health disorder characterized by persistent feelings of fear and worry that can persist even when there is no clear reason.
While having occasional anxious thoughts is normal, it becomes a concern when it starts to disrupt the daily routine of life or prevent people from living the lives they want to live. It’s important to understand the causes and symptoms of anxiety so you can seek help if needed and start feeling better.
The Different Types Of Anxiety Disorders
Navigating mental health issues can be challenging and understanding the different types of anxiety disorders can be one way to build resilience. Anxiety disorders come in a variety of forms, each affecting people differently based on their individual aspects.
Common types of anxiety include:
Social Anxiety Disorder
This form of anxiety is also known as social phobia, is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by intense and persistent fear or anxiety about social situations in which an individual is exposed to possible scrutiny or evaluation by others.
This fear or anxiety can be triggered by a wide range of social situations, such as public speaking, meeting new people, being observed while performing a task, or attending social gatherings.
Basically, almost any type of social interaction can trigger extreme fear and anxiety in someone suffering from a social anxiety disorder.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
This is a mental health condition characterized by excessive and uncontrollable worry and anxiety about a variety of everyday situations or events. People with GAD tend to experience chronic and persistent anxiety and tend to anticipate the worst outcomes in situations that most people would find relatively benign.
This is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by the sudden and unexpected occurrence of panic attacks, which are intense episodes of fear or discomfort that typically last for several minutes.
I have had panic attacks and I can tell you that the intense chest pain and racing heart sensation are extremely disturbing and frightening!
Panic attacks are often accompanied by physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, and a feeling of impending doom or loss of control.
A phobia is an intense and irrational fear of a specific object, situation, or activity. People with phobias often experience intense anxiety and fear in response to the object or situation they fear, and may take extreme measures to avoid it. Specific phobias involve a fear of a specific object or situation, such as spiders, heights, or flying.
Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by an intense and irrational fear of being in situations or places from which escape might be difficult or embarrassing, or where help may not be readily available in case of a panic attack or other emergency.
People with agoraphobia may avoid public spaces such as malls, crowds, and public transportation, and may even become housebound.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterized by intrusive and persistent thoughts, images, or urges (obsessions) that lead to repetitive and ritualistic behaviors or mental acts (compulsions).
These compulsions are often performed as an attempt to reduce the distress caused by obsessive thoughts, but in turn, the compulsions can cause significant distress and interfere with daily activities.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation anxiety disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by excessive and persistent fear or anxiety about being away from home or from attachment figures such as loved ones or caregivers. This fear or anxiety leads to significant distress and impairment in daily life.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event.
The term PTSD is most often associated with military personnel, war refugees, and crime victims. But truth be told, anyone can develop this condition after going through an event that causes them any level of trauma.
Elderly adults may be at increased risk of developing PTSD as a result of the normal aging process, as they may experience changes in their physical, cognitive, and social functioning that can make it more difficult to cope with traumatic events.
They may also have increased exposure to stressors such as illness, loss of loved ones, and social isolation.
The Common Symptoms Of Anxiety
Symptoms of many anxiety disorders usually include excessive worrying, sleep disturbances, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating.
People with moderate to severe anxiety often experience symptoms, such as:
- rapid heart rate
- shallow breathing
- muscle tension
- high blood pressure or low blood pressure
- obsessive thoughts
- panic attacks
There are many more anxiety symptoms ranging from poor concentration to nausea. It presents itself differently from person to person.
Other possible signs are feeling tense and having trouble controlling panic attacks or irrational fears. If you think you might have an anxiety disorder, be sure to talk to a medical professional to get the proper diagnosis and treatment.
Is Anxiety Common In Older Adults?
Studies show that anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns among older adults. Older adults often experience higher levels of stress and worry than younger people, making them more vulnerable to developing an anxiety disorder or worsening existing symptoms.
Anxiety disorders in older adults are fairly common, affecting 10% to 20% of people. However, anxiety disorders often go undiagnosed. Anxiety is found more often than depression and cognitive disorders in older adults.webmd.com
My mother suffered from anxiety but she refused to accept it and as a result, never received treatment for it.
That meant that for the last 20 to 30 years of her life, she suffered with this disorder.
It isolated her from friends and family, caused many arguments with her family, and made everyday tasks a challenge.
She missed outings with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, missed parties, and family events.
All of this was simply because she did not want the “stigma” of being labeled with a mental health disorder.
This is unfortunately not an uncommon story in the older adult population.
In fact, anxiety disorders are very common in adults over 60 and often go undiagnosed or untreated due to fear of stigma or lack of understanding by healthcare providers.
It’s important that we understand that anxiety can affect anyone, regardless of age.
It’s also important to recognize the signs and symptoms and seek treatment as soon as possible because anxiety can have a serious impact on your quality of life.
If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety or depression, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. With the right support and treatment, it is possible to manage and even overcome these issues.
Speak with your doctor or contact a mental health professional for more information on ways to cope with anxiety.
And for heaven’s sake, do not ignore their recommendation for medication. It can make a world of difference!
Why Do Elderly Adults Get Anxiety?
You may know your senior loved one’s history and know that they have never shown any signs of anxiety. So, it can be perplexing as to why they are now showing signs of this debilitating disorder.
Adults 60 years of age and older are more likely to experience physical symptoms of anxiety than their younger counterparts. This age group also has a higher risk of other medical issues, which can increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder.goodrx.com
There are a number of factors that can contribute to elderly adults getting anxious.
Common ones include health issues, changes in lifestyle, or the death of loved ones. Even facing their own mortality can lead to anxiety.
Studies have also shown that certain medications, such as those used to treat high blood pressure or heart disease, can cause anxiety in elderly adults.
In addition, loneliness and isolation can take a toll on mental health.
Social isolation can lead to depression, which in turn can spark feelings of fear and worry that can further develop into anxiety.
Other causes may have more to do with environmental and genetic factors.
For example, if a person has been exposed to traumatic events or experiences earlier in life, they may be predisposed to feeling anxious later in life.
Furthermore, aging can also cause physical and mental changes that lead to anxiety.
This can be due to a decrease in cognitive functioning as well as physical health issues that make activities of daily living more difficult for them.
Finally, aging itself can lead to feeling overwhelmed and anxious. As the body changes with age, many elderly adults struggle to come to terms with how these changes will affect their lives.
This could cause feelings of fear, helplessness, and despair that in turn may trigger severe anxiety.
No matter what the cause of anxiety may be, it’s important to ensure that elderly adults are able to seek help. Anxiety can become debilitating if left untreated, and professional help is often necessary for managing the symptoms.
How Do You Calm An Elderly Person’s Anxiety?
When my husband’s anxiety would become uncontrollable, I often had to find ways to help him calm down.
One thing that really helped my husband was removing him from the situation and doing deep breathing exercises.
It’s a simple exercise of taking slow, deep breaths while counting to five or ten, followed by tensing and relaxing each muscle group in the body one at a time.
This helped him to reduce his stress. It did not work 100% of the time, but the majority of the time. Which of course, is better than nothing!
But if you’re a caregiver of an elderly person, deep breathing may be too difficult for them to do, at first. So, here are some other methods that you may find useful.
Here Are 11 Ways That You Can Help An Elderly Person Who Is Feeling Anxious
- Be patient and understanding: It’s always a good idea to be patient and understanding when trying to calm an elderly person with an anxiety problem. Listen to them and validate their feelings.
- Offer reassurance: Let the elderly person know that they are safe and that everything will be okay.
- Create a calming environment: Try to create a calm and soothing environment by reducing noise, providing comfortable seating, and using soft lighting.
- Relaxation techniques: Try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization.
- Practice mindfulness: Help the elderly person practice mindfulness by focusing on the present moment and paying attention to their breathing and surroundings.
- Offer a distraction: Provide a distraction such as music, a favorite TV show, or a game to help take their mind off of their anxiety.
- Encourage exercise: Encourage the elderly person to engage in light physical activity such as walking or stretching to release tension and anxiety.
- Use aromatherapy: Use essential oils such as lavender or chamomile to help create a calming environment and reduce anxiety.
- Offer a warm drink: Offer a warm drink such as herbal tea or warm milk to help the elderly person relax.
- Seek professional help: If the elderly person’s anxiety is severe or persistent, seek professional help from a healthcare provider, therapist, or counselor. They can provide appropriate treatment and support to help manage anxiety.
- Do Something Fun Together: Go outside for a walk and enjoy nature or even just watch a funny movie together.
With a little patience and understanding, you can help an elderly person manage their anxiety. Show them support and kindness in whatever way works for them.
They will appreciate it and it may help to reduce some of the stress they are feeling.
Remember that everyone experiences anxiety differently, so take the time to understand what works best for your elderly loved one.
Doing so can make a huge difference in their overall well-being.
Overcoming Barriers To Treatment
As I mentioned earlier, my mother never accepted that she was suffering from anxiety, which was one of the biggest barriers to her getting treatment. Sadly, this isn’t an uncommon story.
Many individuals struggling with mental health issues don’t recognize their illness or refuse to accept it, meaning they can’t get help.
My mother’s “barrier” to treatment was that she felt she would never have a mental disorder.
Being Italian-born and raised, it just was not accepted in her culture (or so she said).
Other barriers that seem to be common include:
- Fear: The most common barrier is fear. This can range from a fear of being judged negatively, to a fear of taking medication or even simply not trusting doctors or therapists. It is important to recognize these fears and address them head-on, as they can be very powerful and get in the way of seeking help.
- Cost: For many people, accessing treatment can be cost-prohibitive due to insurance coverage or the underlying costs associated with seeking therapy or medication. Taking time off work as well as the potential costs can be daunting. It is important to explore all options and reach out for help when you need it, even if there are financial barriers in your way.
- Accessibility: Many people live in areas where mental health services are not readily accessible or do not exist at all. Not having access to quality mental health care can make it difficult to overcome barriers to treatment. It is important to explore local resources, including those provided by non-profits or government agencies that may provide mental health services at no cost or reduced prices.
- Cultural: Our culture often perpetuates the idea that talking about mental health issues is taboo, which can be a major barrier to seeking treatment. Reaching out for help can be difficult when you are met with stigma and judgment from family, friends, or even your community. It is important to find a support system of understanding and compassionate individuals who will validate your experiences and encourage you to seek the help that you need.
- Stigma: Unfortunately, there are still a lot of stigmas attached to mental health issues such as anxiety. This can make it difficult for someone who suffers from anxiety to seek treatment due to fear of being judged or misunderstood. It is important to be mindful of this and to speak openly and honestly about mental health in order to reduce the stigma.
- Financial: Mental health services can be expensive, and insurance providers may not always cover all of the costs. Thankfully, there are resources like Medicaid or Medicare, community-based organizations, or nonprofits that offer free or low-cost services. It is important to research what type of assistance may be available for you in your location. Additionally, many mental health professionals offer sliding scale payments based on your income.
- Language barriers: Language can be a major barrier for those seeking mental health treatment, particularly for individuals who are not native English speakers. It is important to ask your potential mental health provider if they offer services in other languages or have access to interpreters. In addition, many online providers also offer teletherapy in multiple languages.
If you know someone who is hesitant to seek treatment for their mental health, here are a few tips that may help them get the help they need.
- Start by encouraging them to talk about their feelings and why they don’t want treatment. This can be a difficult conversation, so it’s important to be patient and understanding. Letting them know that you’re there for them is a great way to show your support.
- Point out the benefits that mental health treatment can provide, such as improved mood and better relationships. Explain how having help from a professional can be incredibly freeing and empowering.
- Offer to accompany them on their first visit or ask if they’d like you to join in for some of the sessions. Having someone they know and trust can be a great help in overcoming any anxiety or fear that may arise during treatment.
- Suggest online resources such as self-help books, websites, blogs, or other materials that might give them a better sense of what to expect from treatment.
- Remind them that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. Everyone’s experience and needs are unique, so it’s important for them to seek out a provider who can customize their care in a way that works best for them.
- Let them know that the first steps may be intimidating, but seeking help is an important part of reclaiming their health and well-being.
- Encourage them to voice any concerns or questions they might have about the process from the beginning so that they can be addressed and answered.
- Offer to provide support throughout the process by attending appointments or connecting them with other people who are willing to listen and offer advice.
- Remind them that professional treatment is worth pursuing to achieve long-term wellness and recovery, even if it requires taking risks or stepping out of their comfort zone.
- Suggest that they focus on small achievable goals as part of a larger recovery plan, such as attending group therapy sessions or working with a therapist to identify triggers and unhealthy coping mechanisms.
- Remind them that overcoming barriers to treatment can be difficult but it is possible with patience and dedication to embracing recovery.
- Encourage them to reach out for help from people they trust and to take advantage of available resources such as support groups, hotlines, or other forms of therapy.
- Emphasize the importance of self-care in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle even when faced with obstacles. This could include eating well, exercising regularly, and getting enough rest.
- Remind them that recovery is a process, and it is okay to feel overwhelmed or discouraged at times. Recognizing these feelings can help them make progress and stay on track with their plan.
- Finally, remind them that no matter how difficult the journey may be, there are always people available to help and support them. Encourage them to reach out for assistance when needed, and never give up on their journey to recovery.
Anxiety can be a challenging issue for anyone to deal with, but it can be especially difficult for elderly individuals who may be facing additional stressors related to aging, such as health problems or social isolation.
Fortunately, there are many ways you can help your elderly loved one manage their anxiety and improve their quality of life.
From offering reassurance and creating a calming environment to encouraging exercise and seeking professional help when needed, there are many strategies you can use to help your elderly loved one cope with anxiety.
By taking the time to listen to their concerns, providing support, and seeking appropriate resources when necessary, you can help your loved one feel more comfortable and in control of their life.
Remember, it’s important to be patient, understanding, and non-judgmental when helping your elderly loved one manage their anxiety.
With your support and care, they can feel more confident and at ease as they navigate the challenges of aging.