Even though as many as 20% of older adults experience anxiety or another type of mental health concern, it is largely stigmatized and avoided. Because of this stigmatization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that “depressive disorders are an under-recognized condition and often are untreated or under-treated among older adults.”
Anxiety is a concern within itself, but it can become even more of a danger when it goes undiagnosed and untreated for so long. In addition, chronic, untreated anxiety is often the source of other health issues and can go beyond mental health, impacting a person’s physical health.
This link between mental and physical health can create an adverse cycle—anxiety and stress cause poor health; health concerns cause anxiety and stress, and around and around it goes. However, there is a positive aspect to this connection. Managing anxiety can often promote physical health and vice versa.
Usually, the biggest hurdle is simply recognizing anxiety in the first place. However, with the right amount of understanding, knowledge, and support, it’s possible to manage anxiety and stress in yourself or someone you know.
HarborChase Senior Living has independent living, assisted living, and memory care communities throughout the United States. We're sharing some tools and information that are essential when providing emotional support to older adults, such as:
- The impacts that anxiety can have on physical health
- The signs of anxiety disorders
- Understanding what your loved one may be experiencing
- How to help someone facing anxiety
Impacts of Chronic Anxiety
Anxiety isn’t just something in your head; it can have a severe impact on your body as a whole. When left untreated, chronic anxiety can have a negative effect on nearly every aspect of your body and your physical health, causing some of the following:
- Insomnia or other sleep difficulties
- Weight loss or gain
- High blood pressure
- Chronic headaches
- Weakened immune system
In turn, these health issues can lead to even more serious concerns, like increased risk of heart attack, cancers, and other chronic diseases. Because the consequences of undiagnosed and untreated stress can be so detrimental, it’s vital to know the signs of anxiety in your family member and be open to destigmatizing and discussing these issues so that they can get the help they need.
Warning Signs of Anxiety
One of the reasons why families and physicians often overlook anxiety is because it can be challenging to diagnose with certainty. There is no “one size fits all” checklist of symptoms to identify anxiety from an external perspective.
There are, however, some common signs that many adults exhibit while experiencing anxiety. Here are some emotional symptoms and behavior changes to look out for in your older family member:
- Difficulty making decisions
- Easily startled
- Frequently nervous or tense
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Being panicked constantly
- Fear of certain situations or events
- Debilitating worry about physical health symptoms
- Avoidance of social situations
As mentioned, anxiety can often manifest as physical symptoms as well. Some physical signs of anxiety include:
- Increased heart rate
- Muscle tension
- Sweating or shaking
- Trouble sleeping
- Vomiting or nausea
- Extreme exhaustion or irregular hyperactivity
Many of these symptoms are shared among other disorders or illnesses, so it can help to observe your family member over time. However, if they are experiencing one or more of these frequently, it may be a good idea to speak to their physician about what could be going on.
Living With Senior Anxiety
People of all ages experience anxiety, but it can be a different experience for an older adult. Many adults may live alone or be dealing with several stressors, including finances, loss of independence, grief, and health concerns.
Many of these adults have described anxiety as a heavy, unrelenting force that weighs on them. It is common for individuals with anxiety to feel as if there is no help and their situation has no solution. Even though the majority of older adults say that they are receiving adequate support, some state that they are not able to gain support from friends and family.
Battling anxiety alone can be one of the most challenging things a person can do. Make sure that you're always there for your family member and listen to their concerns to determine their mood.
How Can I Help My Family Member with Anxiety?
There are a few things that you can do to help your family member manage their anxiety. Seeking professional attention is essential in diagnosing and treating it. If you (or even your family member) don’t know they have anxiety, it can be challenging to fight against it. Over 80% of anxiety disorders can be treatable, it is much easier to overcome once diagnosed—the hardest part is simply knowing it’s there.
Another valuable technique in managing anxiety is speaking with your family about things or situations that make them anxious. Talking about their specific anxiety triggers can help you understand what they need. For example, if arriving at appointments on time or remembering important events can cause anxiety, try sitting down and planning out the next few weeks to offer concrete assurance. If meeting new people is causing stress, try speaking with a professional or staff member at their senior living community about encouraging small group settings where they can meet people in a comfortable environment. Meeting others with the same anxiety problem can make them feel like they are not alone and have another person who knows what they are going through on a daily basis.
As we know, the mind-body connection is strong when it comes to feelings of anxiety. So encourage your family member to take care of themselves so that they can keep these anxious feelings in check. To make sure they’re living a healthy lifestyle, you can even join them on a walk or a local exercise class, cook healthy meals together, and do other special activities together that you know they will enjoy. Having a strong sense of physical wellness can influence wellness in other areas of their life, as well.
Focusing on Mental Health
Anxiety - especially among seniors - is common, so it’s time to stop stigmatizing mental health disorders and start raising awareness about the importance of mental health.
At HarborChase Senior Living, we put the health and wellness of our residents first, always looking out for signs of anxiety, stress, depression, and other concerns. Our luxury senior living communities aim to help adults manage these feelings and provide them with a lifestyle that leaves no room for added stress or worry. Resort-style amenities, exceptional dining services, daily activities, and world-class hospitality ensure that residents have access to everything they could want or need to live an enhanced, active lifestyle.
For more information about senior living trends, health and wellness, and caregiver resources, we invite you to visit our HarborChase blog.
Updated on November 22, 2021