Anxiety is the most prevalent mental health disorder. People of all ages and backgrounds experience anxious thoughts, and those affected by the disorder sometimes wonder if they’ll always struggle with anxiety. No one wants to face this challenge into their senior years, so this is a very common concern.
It’s impossible to predict what your future will look like in regards to your mental health. However, we can look at data on senior mental health to learn more about the prevalence of the disorder in older adults. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and risk factors for anxiety, you’re better equipped to manage the disorder in yourself or to support a loved one with the condition.
Does Anxiety Get Worse With Age?
One research review reports that anxiety disorders are just as common or more common in older adults than in younger adults. Anxiety is difficult to measure in all populations, but it may be especially complicated to assess in seniors. Different studies report widely different percentages of the population who have anxious symptoms, too, so it’s hard to understand exactly how many people in each age group have the disorder. However, researchers are confident that anxiety affects older adults as much as it affects younger people.
The World Health Organization reports that 3.8 percent of older adults experience anxiety disorders. It’s likely that the true percentage is higher, though. Because seniors tend to be very private about mental health, they may not report their symptoms, so they might never be officially diagnosed. Also, some older adults may experience anxious symptoms that cause discomfort in their lives, but they don’t meet the requirements to be clinically diagnosed with a disorder.
There are many reasons that seniors may see an increase in their anxious symptoms or develop an anxiety disorder for the first time later in life. The life transitions that happen as you get older may trigger anxiety as they can make you feel like you’ve lost some control over your circumstances. Sometimes, people use their work or other activities as a distraction from their anxious thoughts, but when they get older, they no longer have this as a coping mechanism.
This doesn’t mean that all older adults experience a worsening of their symptoms, though. Everyone’s journey with their mental health is different, and plenty of people overcome their anxiety earlier in life and enjoy a peaceful retirement. Certain factors in your life may reduce your risk of anxious feelings as you age. For example, having a strong social network that you can reach out to for support may reduce your anxious thoughts. Engaging in relaxing hobbies may alleviate anxiety, too.
Causes of Senior Anxiety
Sometimes, anxious thoughts or feelings have no clear cause. You might feel nervous, stressed, or on edge even if you have no major worries in your life. Anxiety disorders don’t always listen to reason, so you might not be able to identify what triggered the feelings.
In other cases, though, anxiety is brought on by specific life events or circumstances. Aging can bring about a number of changes that may cause anxious symptoms. The following are some of the most common causes of anxiety in seniors:
- Medical diagnosis
- Loss of independence; difficulty with activities of daily living
- Moving to a retirement home or nursing facility
- Loss of loved ones
- Social isolation and loneliness
- Fear of falling or experiencing a medical emergency
- Financial instability
- Elder abuse
Some people may be more predisposed than others to developing mental health disorders. For example, anxious thoughts appear to affect older women more than older men, and people who have experienced trauma are more likely to experience anxiety.
Another significant contributor to anxious symptoms in older adults is dementia. A decline in memory and cognitive functioning can be incredibly difficult to cope with, and seniors may feel anxious due to their confusion or loss of independence. People with dementia may appear restless, agitated, or angry when they’re feeling anxious, and their anxiety may come and go throughout the day.
Symptoms of Anxiety in Seniors
Anxiety disorders can cause many different symptoms, so no two people will have the exact same experience with the condition. There are also different types of anxiety disorders that each have unique diagnostic criteria.
Here are some of the most common symptoms that older adults may report:
- Excessive and long-lasting worry
- Feelings of dread or an impending sense of doom
- Difficulty concentrating
- Avoiding situations that cause fearfulness
- Fear of leaving the house
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty sleeping
- Stomach pain, nausea, or digestive issues
- Racing heart rate
- Feeling faint or dizzy
Anxiety is a mental health disorder, but it’s closely connected to your physical health. The condition can activate the fight-or-flight response in your body, which is associated with a variety of physical symptoms. Keep in mind that seniors are more likely to discuss their physical symptoms than their mental or emotional experiences. You or a loved one may report headaches, muscle pain, and heart palpitations instead of focusing on the fear or worry. It’s important to take these complaints seriously as they can be a sign of a mental health issue.
Treating Senior Anxiety
Even if you don’t have much control over the situations that make you feel anxious, you don’t have to live with anxious thoughts. At any age, it’s possible to gain the coping skills needed to overcome your symptoms and achieve an overall sense of peace in life.
Some older adults use deep breathing techniques or meditation to feel more calm and grounded throughout the day. These activities are great for calming down your body, which in turn can help your mind relax. Exercising regularly can help you regulate anxious thoughts as well.
One of the best ways to treat an anxiety disorder is to work with a licensed counselor. Therapy for senior anxiety provides an opportunity for you to explore your anxious thoughts and to learn how to dismiss them without ruminating on them. If you have a specific phobia or a certain situation that makes you feel anxious, your therapist might gradually introduce you to that trigger so that you can overcome your fear in a safe environment.
Does anxiety get worse with age? Seniors may experience more anxiety-inducing situations than younger adults, and they may not have as many resources for support. Some people may notice that their anxious thoughts get stronger or more frequent with age, but anxiety is a treatable mental health disorder. By recognizing the signs and reaching out for help, you can stop your symptoms from affecting your quality of life.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling provides therapy for older adults with anxiety, depression, and many other mental health concerns. If you or a loved one is interested in counseling, contact us today.