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It’s similar to claustrophobia, but it doesn’t always happen in tight spaces. Agoraphobia can hit when you’re in a crowd, standing in line or in a restaurant. Agoraphobia is actually one of the most common phobias in elderly adults.
Agoraphobia is considered an anxiety disorder. It often occurs in people with panic disorders, but that’s not always the case. Agoraphobia in older adults can come on after a traumatic event and isn’t always associated with a co-occurring psychological disorder. It’s helpful to remember that what may be a traumatic event for a senior would not necessarily feel traumatic to a younger adult.
When we try to understand older adults from their perspective, we come to understand that it’s often not uncommon for elderly adults to want to isolate themselves. Outings that used to be enjoyable and simple, become complicated and overwhelming. The simple act of going shopping can bring new risks and obstacles that younger adults never consider. Many seniors have to give up their drivers licenses, are fearful of falling and have incontinence issues that all contribute to isolative behavior.
There are many reasons why seniors don’t want to leave their homes, apartments or Assisted Living Facilities. Agoraphobia in older adults can play a major role in an elderly person’s self-imposed isolation.
As you get older, your mobility may become compromised. It makes sense that you would be anxious about being trapped in a certain situation if you were unable to move around freely, independently or quickly. Canes, walkers and wheelchairs change a person’s perspective of their mobility. Traveling, going to a concert or dining at a busy restaurant could elicit panic.
Although the agoraphobia causes are different for everyone, experts say that depression, other phobias, other types of anxiety disorders, a history of abuse, substance abuse disorders and genetics may play a role in the development of the condition.
If you’ve experienced a trauma, such as a fall or a dangerous situation, in a public place, you will likely want to avoid that place in the future.
Some of the symptoms that come up when you’re agoraphobic include:
• Chest pain
• Racing pulse
• Trouble catching your breath
• Sweating or chills
These physical symptoms can be terrifying. They can make a person feel out of control. Experiencing symptoms such as these can make you fearful of putting yourself in stressful situations in the future. The cycle builds on itself, leaving you anxious and isolated.
To be diagnosed with agoraphobia, you would have to experience powerful anxiety in at least two of the following circumstances:
• Using public transportation
• Being in open spaces
• Being in tight spaces, such as a vehicle
• Being in a crowd
• Being outside of your home alone
Managing agoraphobia can be scary. If you’re afraid to leave the house, you’ll have to face some of your fears in order to combat the condition.
One of the first steps to learning agoraphobia coping skills is to educate yourself. A mental health professional can give you more information about the condition and help you become aware of your symptoms and triggers. When you know what sparks your symptoms, you can come up with a plan to manage the issue.
Psychotherapy is often used to treat individuals with agoraphobia. During therapy, you’ll likely talk about tolerating anxiety symptoms and taking measures to alleviate them.
When you learn how to manage your anxiety, you’ll be able to stay in stressful situations until the panic subsides. Exposure therapy involves gradually putting yourself in the situation that causes you fear. Eventually, you may develop more confidence as you realize that you’re safe.
You’ll also discuss your fears during therapy. Although bringing your worries out into the open can make you feel vulnerable, a good therapist will hear your concerns. You may realize that there are in fact rational and real ways to combat limiting thoughts.
Learning calming skills can also help you manage your symptoms. Meditation, yoga, breathing and visualization can help you stay steady when you feel panic coming on. Clients learn the importance of practicing these methods when they are not feeling anxious so they are comfortable and able to use them in a triggering situation.
Taking care of physical health can also contribute to reducing general anxiety. Regular exercise, eating healthfully and avoiding alcohol and caffeine can boost the mood-enhancing chemicals that make you feel balanced. Getting enough sleep is so important for everybody, especially seniors. There are many factors that seniors face regarding getting proper sleep. Our therapists can help clients to identify what the challenges are to taking care of physical health and work on developing realistic solutions to promote health and well-being.
There are some medications specifically intended to relieve symptoms of anxiety. They can also help control panic attacks. Our therapists at Blue Moon Senior Counseling do not prescribe medications but we are in favor of clients discussing their anxiety challenges with their primary physicians and psychiatrists (if they are being seen) to explore the specific pros and cons of medication to help with anxiety and/or agoraphobia.
One of the biggest challenges when dealing with agoraphobia in elderly adults is convincing them to get treatment. How can someone who is afraid to leave the house go to therapy? At Blue Moon Senior Counseling we can treat seniors via telehealth.