Anxiety in the Elderly

senior anxiety

Anxiety: a mental disorder

Although a common disorder in adults over 60, anxiety is often not diagnosed because of a lack of research. For more than 18 percent of people in this age group, anxiety is the most common mental disorder.

Anxiety in the elderly can be induced by a variety of causes such as:

  • side effects of medications
  • depression
  • dementia

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD is the most common anxiety disorder affecting seniors. In contrast to what we would consider, “normal” stresses for the elderly: declining health or financial problems, GAD is characterized by excessive worrying over everyday life events and lasts for more than six months.  GAD leads to a limiting of daily capabilities and sleep difficulties.

Anxiety and Dementia
Anxiety is a common symptom of dementia. Anxiety for dementia patients is due largely to changes within the brain, as well as the tension and grief due to loss of cognition and awareness of their surroundings.

People with dementia are often anxious, restless, and fidgety, but they may not be able to articulate what is troubling them. In a particular behavior known as shadowing, a person with dementia follows his or her caregiver around the house like a shadow.

Additional anxiety disorders to watch out for include:

  • panic disorder
  • obsessive social anxiety disorder
  • phobias

Excessive worrying can have costly health consequences if left untreated.

Untreated anxiety in the elderly can lead to anxious depression, which is harder to treat and has higher associated suicide risks in comparison to general depression.

Anxiety in the elderly can lead to decreased cognitive abilities.

A study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh found that a treatment with citalopram – a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) – used to treat younger people is equally effective for people aged 60 and older. For the elderly specifically, this drug has been found to cause improved cognition and quality of life during an eight month time period. The University of Pittsburgh is conducting further research on the effects.

Advocate for your loved one
Because many seniors suffering from anxiety do not receive proper diagnosis and treatments, it is important to discuss with your loved one’s primary physician the possible side effects of their medication and watch for depression. If you suspect that a loved one may be affected by anxiety, seek proper treatment and support.

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