A recent ad in a North Carolina newspaper recruited patients to participate in a study. The study focused on “older adults who worry, feel anxious, or feel nervous,” and was evaluating how behavioral therapy or gentle yoga affects them.
There is no shortage of seniors who meet the requirements. Mental Health America data shows between 3% and 14% of older adults have a diagnosable anxiety disorder. The organization cautions “excessive anxiety that causes distress or interferes with daily activities is not a normal part of aging.”
How to Recognize Symptoms of Anxiety
Recognizing anxiety in elderly can be a challenge for caregivers because the symptoms can appear differently than those of younger persons. Generally, symptoms of anxiety disorder can include excessive worry, sleep disturbance, panic attacks, nausea and vomiting, muscle tension, and social anxiety. In seniors, symptoms can include headaches, back pain, or a rapid heartbeat.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) points out that for seniors, “separating a medical condition from symptoms of an anxiety disorder [can be] more complicated.” The Association suggests that caregivers ask seniors the following questions:
- Can you say what triggers your anxious feelings?
- Have you been concerned about many things?
- Is there anything going on in your life that is causing you concern?
- Do you find that you have a hard time putting things out of your mind?
Additionally, to determine if the physical symptoms could be caused by mental health issues, AADA recommends asking:
- What were you doing when you noticed the chest pain, headache, or other pain?
- What were you thinking about when you felt your heart start to race?
- When you can’t sleep, about what are you thinking?
How to Treat Anxiety in Elderly
Like the North Carolina study, behavioral therapy and yoga may work to help with anxiety. For example, results of a 2001 randomized trial showed that behavioral therapy was effective in improving anxiety symptoms in older people.
Further, the Harvard’s Mental Health Letter reports that “for many patients dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress, yoga may be a very appealing way to better manage symptoms.” However, the article cautions that patients need to check with their doctor before starting an exercise or yoga program – especially those with mobility issues.
Another treatment option is medication. If your loved one’s anxiety disorder warrants treatment with medication, consider asking a healthcare provider for the GeneSight® test. A recent study found that GeneSight-guided treatment significantly improved treatment response in patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Participants had a decreased the use of benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety medication). The study found that when elderly patients take this medication, it may have other effects such as cognitive impairment, falls, and fall-related injuries such as hip fractures.
Case Study: Seniors with Anxiety
Getting on the right medication can be challenging. Consider this testimony from someone who’s been there – a 67-year-old Ohio woman who struggled with anxiety, depression, and bipolar disease:
“I was desperate for results and improvement in my condition. I went to a seminar where a doctor from the Mayo Clinic presented and talked about the GeneSight test. Shortly after that presentation I scheduled a visit with my doctor to ask about the test.
My physician and I sat down with my test results. We looked at what medications would be effective and which ones to avoid. The test results were very easy to understand. I was relieved that I could see real results without the medication trial-and-error process.
Thanks to the results of the test my doctor was able to switch me from a medication that was in the red category of the GeneSight test to a medication in the green category. This change has reduced my amount of anxiety medications by sixty percent!”
If your aging parent or loved one seems to be more worried than usual or if they are avoiding activities they previously enjoyed, it could be anxiety. Be sure to talk to them and get them the help they need.
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