How Does Anxiety Look Different in Older Adults? Tips on What Symptoms Caregivers Should Be Looking For

Guest Blog by Christian Worstell

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

While it is normal to feel nervous or worry from time to time, anxiety that is severe enough to interfere with daily life is not a normal part of aging. 

Research into the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety in older patients is somewhat limited; however, it is believed that anywhere between 3% and 14% of seniors meet the criteria to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder

What’s more is that over 27% of seniors receiving care through an aging services organization exhibit anxiety symptoms that negatively impact daily functioning but that do not rise to the level of a clinical diagnosis.

How Does Anxiety Differ Between Older and Younger Populations?

Anxiety and depression are often underdiagnosed and undertreated in older populations for several reasons:

  1. Older patients are more likely to emphasize physical complaints rather than psychiatric symptoms when speaking with family or a health care provider.

  2. Psychiatric symptoms in older adults may be incorrectly attributed to chronic medical conditions or dismissed as side effects of medications.

  3. Physical limitations and isolation can make it difficult for seniors to access treatment for anxiety and other mental health disorders.

Types of Anxiety Experienced by Older Adults

The most common anxiety disorder among older adults is generalized anxiety disorder, which is characterized by excessive anxiety or worry that lasts for six months or more and is hard to control. Clinical professionals typically look for at least three physical or cognitive symptoms for a GAD diagnosis.

Common symptoms include difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, fatigue, sleep disturbances, irritability, gastrointestinal distress and feeling keyed up or on edge. 

 Other anxiety disorders include:

  • Social anxiety disorder. Some people may experience noticeable and consistent fear of situations in which they are exposed to new people or in which they could face scrutiny. This can range from social situations such as meeting new people, eating around unfamiliar people or performing in front of a group.

    A diagnosis might be made if the fear or anxiety lasts for 6 months or longer and it causes significant impairment to social functioning.

  • Phobia. An anxiety disorder characterized by an irrational fear of something that poses little or no danger. For some people, the fear is so intense that they alter their lives to avoid the object of their fear.

  • Panic disorder. Characterized by sudden, intense feelings of terror that can occur without warning. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, chest pain or palpitations, dizziness, gastrointestinal discomfort, and intense fear or feelings of doom.

Common Causes of Anxiety in Older Adults

Several risk factors can increase the likelihood that your loved one may experience anxiety symptoms, including:

  • Stressful life events common among seniors, such as the loss of a spouse or transitioning to a smaller home or a care facility can also trigger symptoms of anxiety and depression.

  • Being diagnosed with a chronic health condition.

  • Experiencing a shift in how threats are perceived.

  • A decline in physical functioning.

  • A history of difficult events earlier in life.

  • A recent traumatic event.

Treatment Options for Anxiety

If you believe that your loved one is suffering from anxiety, you should encourage them to speak with a trained professional as soon as possible. Counseling, depression screenings and other mental health support services can be covered by Medicare

Their Medicare costs could be covered in full, or they may be responsible for deductible and copayment costs, depending on the types of services they pursue and the type of Medicare coverage they have.

In addition to talking to your loved one about their symptoms, a doctor or mental health professional can administer a mental health screening to make the appropriate diagnosis and identify treatment options, such as therapy or medication. 

Author Bio: Christian Worstell is a health and lifestyle writer living in Raleigh, NC

Christian  worstell

Christian worstell

Getting Through Depression in Your Senior Years - Guest BLOG

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This is a guest blog by Teresa Greenhill at

Part of the human existence is the ebb and flow of our mental health. We have good days and bad days, and we have good years and bad years. Some of it is circumstantial, and some of it is clinical. For those who suffer from clinical depression, a solution isn’t always easy to find; you can’t simply snap your fingers and make it go away. If you’re a senior suffering from depression, it’s important to get the help that you need so you can successfully manage this condition. Everyone’s situation is unique, and a proper diagnosis should be pursued to come up with the right treatment plan.

Mental Health Overview

Mental Health encompasses your emotional, mental, and social well-being. Positive and negative mental health can vary in degree of seriousness, from something as temporary as a bad day to a mental health disorder that requires treatment. Mood disorders (bipolar), anxiety disorders (OCD), personality disorders (borderline), behavioral disorders (ADHD), psychotic disorders (schizophrenia), trauma disorders (PTSD), and eating disorders are all issues that fall into this realm. For many people who suffer from mental health issues, it could be something as common as depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and stress.

Depression in Seniors

Commonly seen among seniors, depression is a clinical mood disorder that affects how you function in life; for example, life changes could lead to clinical depression in seniors. For some seniors, it starts with losing loved ones, transitioning from a career to retirement, giving up independence and mobility, watching children grow up and move on, feeling lonely and socially isolated, and losing a sense of purpose. Those circumstances can develop into clinical depression. Be sure to pay attention to signs such as sleep and appetite changes, irritability, decreased energy, anxiousness, guilt, hopelessness, emptiness, concentration problems, and suicidal thoughts.

Treatment for Depression

If you’re noticing symptoms of depression in yourself or someone you love, it’s best to seek professional treatment from a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. A mental health provider will be able to diagnose you, provide counseling, and recommend therapy and/or medication to help treat the issue. Therapeutic treatment could include individual and group counseling, psychotherapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Mental Health Insurance Through Medicare

Medicare Part B will cover mental health services provided by a psychotherapist, psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, or clinical social worker in the Medicare network. Family counseling related to your treatment and outpatient substance abuse treatment also falls under Medicare coverage. For hospitalizations, Part A can help cover the hospital stay up to 190 days, while Part B covers the doctor fees. Your out-of-pocket expenses for these services typically include 20 percent co-pay, co-insurance, and deductibles. Make sure you have the right coverage for your anticipated needs as you review your annual plan.

Medicare for Depression

Part B covers an annual depression screening at your PCP’s office and a preventive visit to see if you’re at risk. These visits usually occur at no cost to the patient.

Finding the Right Help

Not all mental health providers are covered by Medicare, so it’s important to make sure the provider accepts assignment. Accepting assignment means that the provider allows Medicare to pay them directly for the agreed upon coverage amount, and the patient is only billed for the deductible and coinsurance. To get the most out of Medicare for your mental health needs, search for a therapist who accepts Medicare. Discuss pricing and billing with them before signing up to be a patient.

Depression is not the end of anything — it’s simply the beginning of a new way of living and coping. Those moments of extreme sadness, hopelessness, and feeling trapped don’t have to take over your golden years. With the right diagnosis and treatment, you’ll soon find relief for your mental health.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Why Your Efforts to Manage Worry Fail

The two reasons that people are unsuccessful at managing worry are: 1) They wait until the worry has spiraled out of control such that most strategies are ineffective and 2) They try fighting their worry and anxiety.

One of the most important things to understand about the nature of worry is that it occurs in a spiral of interactions between thoughts, images, physical sensations, behaviors, and emotions that interact to a progressively higher level anxiety. By the time most people try a coping strategy, the worry is too powerful for the strategy to be effective and may even make matters worse due to frustration and hopelessness.

The other very important thing to understand about worry is that fighting it fuels it. Daniel Wegener showed two groups of people a photo of a white bear. One group was told to NOT think about the white bear while the other group was told it was okay to think about it. The group that was told not to think about it was more likely to be thinking about it 10 minutes later. When he ran a similar study asking people what they worry about and only telling one group to avoid thinking about their worry. Not only did the group who was told not to think about their worry, worry more than the group who was only asked what they worried about, the difference was even greater than it was with the white bear experiment. So the most common advice we get to manage worry, “Don’t think about it” or “Put it out of your mind” actually makes it worse!

So what can you do to overcome these problems. In short, catch anxiety early/prevent the spiral from getting out of control and avoid fighting anxiety. Over the next several weeks I will go into greater detail about these. But if you don’t want to wait - click here to check out my Worry, Anxiety, and Depression Workbook.