Decoding anxiety - Part 3: Anxiety in old age
December 16th, 2016
Filed under: Anxiety disorder, Mental Disorder by ATAC Team

One of the most common mental illnesses experienced by the Americans is anxiety disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), it affects roughly 40 million adults (18 percent) aged 18 years or above. Though anxiety disorders can be managed effectively, only about one-third of those with the problem are treated.

The onslaught of anxiety disorders can arise from multiple factors such as genetics, brain chemistry, the personality of the individual and strenuous life events. And anybody, irrespective of gender, age, ethnicity and background, can suffer from anxiety disorders. When anxiety disorders strike older adults, it can interfere with daily activities and cause various health problems. It also tends to affect their quality of life. It is common for the elderly to have worries pertaining to family, finances and health as their physical and mental capabilities depreciate as they age. When these sources of anxiety become very intense and distressing for the individual, it is called an anxiety disorder.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), anxiety disorders affect up to 15 percent of older adults in a given year. It’s not easy to diagnose anxiety disorders in elderly as they might be suffering from various other illnesses which may mask symptoms of anxiety and this can worsen the situation.

Anxiety disorders can include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Common types of anxiety disorders that affect older adults

  • Panic disorder: It is accompanied by panic attacks or a sudden feeling of stark fear that can manifest without any prior warning. Physical symptoms can be observed in the form of heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath and fear of dying.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Individuals suffering from OCD portray the inability to control their recurring thoughts and their compulsive behaviors. This may include ritually engaging in activities, such as washing hands, counting, cleaning, etc., which is performed in the hope of making their anxieties go away.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: It occurs after experiencing a traumatic life event, including an abuse, natural calamities, violence or some other scenario that is perceived as extreme danger or threat to the individual. Common symptoms are nightmares, flashbacks, depression, irritability, etc.
  • Phobia: It can be characterized by extreme irrational fear which in reality does not pose any danger or harm to the individual. This can lead to avoidance of places, objects or situation that bring out their fears. Common phobias may be of heights, flying, water, etc.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: GAD is characterized by aggravated worry about routine life and daily activities accompanied by the anticipation of the worst possible outcome. Women are more likely than men to develop GAD and it can easily last over a period of six months. Symptoms may include fatigue, trembling, muscle tension or nausea.

Risk factors for anxiety disorder among older adults

Some important factors that may increase the risk of developing anxiety among older adults are:

  • sleep disturbance
  • alcohol abuse
  • strenuous life events
  • the constant and excessive worry of poor health
  • chronic medical illnesses
  • prescription drug misuse and abuse
  • physical limitations brought on by aging
  • side effects of medication (such as antidepressants, inhalers, stimulants, etc.)
  • worry about their children’s well-being

Scope of recovery

If you or a loved one, including an older adult, is struggling with an anxiety disorder, it is important to seek help. Contact the Anxiety Treatment Advisors of Colorado to connect to the best anxiety disorders treatment centers in Colorado. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-891-2539 or chat online with our medical advisors for more information and assistance in locating the best anxiety treatment centers in Colorado.

Read the other articles of the series, “Decoding anxiety:”

Part 1: Identifying and overcoming child anxiety

Part 2: Prevalence of anxiety in teens


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