Anxiety can happen at any age, but seniors may be especially vulnerable to the mental health condition. The aging process brings about a variety of stressful changes, and it can be difficult to adapt to a new lifestyle. According to the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, 10 to 20 percent of seniors struggle with anxiety. The condition is probably under-diagnosed, though, and many seniors may experience symptoms of anxiety without meeting the clinical requirements for diagnosis. Anxiety takes a serious toll on your mental health and on your overall quality of life, but it is possible to get the condition under control. If you or a loved one is aging, you should understand the symptoms and triggers of anxiety in older adults so that you can stay alert for the disorder.
Symptoms of Anxiety in the Elderly
Everyone’s experience with anxiety is different, so you or your loved one might not display every symptom. Any significant change in behavior that lasts for longer than a couple weeks can be a cause of concern, so be watchful for sudden or unexplained shifts in mood or personality. Here are some of the most common anxiety symptoms:
• Prolonged and excessive worry that feels out of control
• Feeling restless, nervous, or on edge
• Tiring easily
• Sleeping too much or too little
• Difficulty concentrating
• Muscle tension or muscle aches
• Nausea or stomach problems
7 Common Triggers of Anxiety in Seniors
Sometimes, anxiety doesn’t have a clear cause. Mental health disorders are complicated, and they may develop for seemingly no reason. However, when anxiety develops in older age, there is often an explanation. Seniors go through so many life changes, and adjusting to these changes can be stressful. The following are the most common anxiety triggers in older adults:
1. Loss of Independence
As you age, you may lose some of your independence. Mobility limitations, health issues, or cognitive decline could make it difficult to complete certain activities of daily living. It can be very difficult to come to terms with this loss of independence, and not being able to do the things you used to can be incredibly stressful. Although this is a normal part of the aging process, it does lead to feelings of loss of control among many seniors.
2. Health Problems or Chronic Pain
Health issues and chronic pain become more common with age, so they’re some of the most common triggers for anxiety. You might feel anxious about how an illness may progress or about losing your quality of life due to a chronic health condition. The stress of managing an illness can take a toll on your mental health, too. Juggling doctor visits, medications, and medical treatments can be overwhelming and can make you feel like your life is outside of your own control.
In some cases, medical problems directly contribute to feelings of anxiety. For example, some heart conditions and hormone imbalances can mimic the symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks.
Grief is one of the most difficult experiences in life, and it becomes more common with age. As you get older, you may face the painful loss of family members and friends. Losing a loved one can completely change your world, and coping with this loss is tough.
It’s normal and expected to face emotional challenges after a loved one passes away. For some people, though, loss leads to serious and long-term mental health symptoms. Anxiety can develop during grief when someone is unsure of how they’ll manage without their loved one. Grief may also make you feel like you’ve lost your sense of stability or like you could lose another loved one at any time.
4. Loneliness and Isolation
Social interaction is an important part of wellness for people of all ages. Seniors are especially likely to struggle with loneliness and isolation, and this can lead to problems with anxiety. You may worry about falling or experiencing a medical emergency without help nearby, or you may feel like you have no one to talk to about your stresses or worries. Anxiety can cause you to further isolate yourself, too, which can in turn worsen your mental health symptoms.
5. Financial Insecurity
Financial difficulties are common among seniors for a number of reasons. When you retire, you lose your main source of income, and for some older adults, retirement savings and Social Security are barely sufficient to pay the bills. Medical expenses can quickly add up as well.
Anxiety over finances can severely disrupt your day-to-day life. You might worry constantly about how you’ll pay your bills, purchase your medications, or buy groceries. Sometimes, seniors who are monetarily comfortable still have anxiety regarding their finances. It’s impossible to predict the future, and this uncertainty can trigger anxiety.
6. Sensory Changes
A change in sensory perception is fairly common as you get older, but it can be a major trigger for anxiety. Hearing loss, which is the most common type of sensory change in seniors, may affect your ability to communicate effectively. This can lead to anxiety as it might make you feel disconnected from the world. Vision loss can cause similar problems.
A decline in your sense of smell or taste may contribute to anxiety, too. Although these senses don’t affect your communication and ability to interact with the world as severely as hearing and vision, they are an important part of life. Some seniors worry about losing these senses completely or not being able to enjoy the foods or aromas they love.
Many older adults with dementia struggle with anxiety. The condition affects your ability to understand your surroundings and communicate with others, which can be disorienting and frustrating. Dementia may cause anxiety if an individual needs to move into a skilled nursing facility or move in with family. Trying to make sense of the world with dementia can be stressful, too.
Anxiety is frequently overlooked in people with dementia. The nervousness, restlessness, or irritability may be attributed to the cognitive decline instead of to the mental health issue, which could prevent the individual from getting the proper treatment.
Anxiety in seniors is unfortunately common, and the triggers aren’t always within your control. However, even if you can’t remove the cause of anxiety from your life, you can manage the condition. Therapy can be very successful for treating anxiety and improving your mental and emotional well-being. When working with a therapist, you’ll explore the causes of your anxiety and learn techniques for coping with anxiety triggers as they arise. No one should have to live with anxiety, especially during their retirement years, but therapy is a valuable experience regardless of what has triggered your anxiety.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling provides therapy services for elderly adults experiencing anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. If you or an aging loved one is interested in speaking with a licensed counselor, please reach out to us today.