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Anxiety in Seniors: How to Support Your Loved Ones


senior woman with anxiety sitting at a table with her daughter
Image credit: Mangostar / Adobe Stock

Anxiety, both health- and social-related, is not uncommon in seniors. Understanding what anxiety is, and how it might be caused, can help you determine how to support your loved one who may be struggling.


Common causes of anxiety in seniors


Among the senior population, certain conditions and life circumstances may be more likely to contribute to an anxiety disorder.


Dementia


Anxiety can be common in seniors with dementia, and can present itself as sleep disturbances, poor cognitive function, behavioral problems, and poor quality of life. Seniors with both dementia and anxiety may experience fatigue, irritability, aggression, and restlessness. They may be anxious about being alone, having limited mobility, attending an upcoming event, and completing a daily task.


Anxiety disorder


Disorders like OCD, PTSD, and GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) can decrease physical health, emotional well-being, and performance of daily activities. OCD is marked by recurring thoughts and practices that the person cannot control. PTSD can occur after the person experiences a threat to their survival or safety, and someone with GAD may worry about everyday tasks and anticipate the worst in every situation.


Situational


Other things may contribute to anxiety such as loneliness, contracting sickness or disease, fear of falling or getting hurt, not feeling safe or secure, etc. With the pandemic, seniors may also feel anxious about COVID-19 and the health of themselves and their families.


How to identify anxiety in seniors


Anxiety can present in numerous ways and may look different from person to person. However, there are a few common indicators that your loved one may be struggling with anxiety.


Physical signs. A few physical signs of anxiety may be shaky hands, difficulty breathing, chest pains, sweating, nausea/digestive problems, headaches, and difficulty eating (which can result in weight loss). It’s important to note any changes in your loved one’s health and check in with them frequently to see how they’re feeling.

Behavioral changes. Keeping track of behavioral patterns can also help identify if your senior is experiencing anxiety. If your loved one begins to isolate themself, avoids certain activities, has trouble sleeping, becomes confused, or develops panic attacks, they may have anxiety.

Triggers. A trigger is something that reminds a person of something traumatic that happened to them before. These can be things such as having financial insecurities, beginning to feel loss of independence, recovering from an illness, changing medications, or developing a chronic medical condition. Triggers can come in various forms and will be different for every person.


Tips for treating anxiety in older adults


1. Engage them in stimulating hobbies.


One way to help your loved one is helping them identify activities that bring them joy. This might be doing puzzles, playing with toys they had as a child, learning to play an instrument, or watching their favorite TV shows.


2. Support them socially.


When seniors have a social support system, they will be less likely to feel lonely or disconnected from others. You can have loved ones visit them frequently, set up scheduled phone or video calls, or ensure they have someone to communicate with on a daily basis.There also may be senior programs available in their area that they can attend and meet new people.


3. Be an active listener and encourage expression of their emotions.


One big way to support your loved one with anxiety is simply listening to their feelings and assuring them that they are normal. Some seniors may feel that they’re a burden when they share their fears or anxieties, so encouraging them to express what they’re going through can be a way to help them through it.


Want to learn more about finding a senior living community for a loved one with anxiety? Welcome Home Senior Services & Placement Co. can help. Contact us today to speak with our senior placement specialists, who can connect you with any of the hundreds of Florida communities we represent.

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