Although we are beginning to have a greater understanding of depression in older adults, senior anxiety is often called the “silent geriatric giant.” That’s because it often goes ignored or unnoticed until there is a crisis in the victim’s life. And even then, it can sometimes take years before the patient or loved one considers and implements effective treatment. If you think that your aging loved one is affected by this phenomenon, or you just want to know how to help calm their fears, then read on.
Treating anxiety disorders
The physician review
There are many methods to treat anxiety disorders in older adults, or even anxiety that is not a full-blown disorder. In either case, the first step should involve a consultation with the patient’s PCP (Primary Care Physician), a psychiatrist or both. Not only can this help to prevent a crisis, but it can determine the best course of treatment for the future.
The next step will likely involve meeting with a mental health professional – either a clinician seen in an office or a visiting professional who comes to their home. The counselor can be a psychologist (someone with a doctorate), a social worker or other licensed expert experienced with anxiety issues.
Cognitive behavioral therapies are often employed when dealing with anxiety, although other methods can be effective. Learning tools like progressive muscle relaxation, sleep hygiene, and breathing exercises are good ways for a patient to feel calmer and more in control of their fears.
Although there are risks associated with psychotropic drugs in an older population, they can be a viable option for some. Many clinicians prefer to reserve medication as an adjunct to psychotherapy, although pharmaceuticals may also work as a stand-alone treatment. Benzodiazepines like Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan are typically used in the short-term while others are employed in the long-term treatment of concurrent illnesses such as depression or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
But no matter the treatment, it’s advisable to have your loved one’s physicians keep a close watch on any other health conditions and medications they take; this helps to prevent negative effects from psychotropic drugs.
What you can do
When trying to help a loved one cope with anxiety, you may sometimes feel powerless. But the truth is, there are many things you can do to assist an older adult during this difficult time. Often, a caring relationship with your loved one can provide the support they need. However, it’s a good idea to look for ways to expand this support system – especially for times when you can’t be there. This can take the form of visiting friends, neighbors, or even a home health aide for a few hours a week.
Many older adults also find it helpful to continue engaging in activities they enjoy, as well as spending time in the company of their peers. Adult day programs and social clubs can help fill this gap, as the negative effect of social isolation on older populations is well-known.
You don’t have to manage senior anxiety alone
If you’re helping someone cope with senior anxiety, you don’t have to do it alone. In fact, attempting this course may do your loved one more harm than good. In addition to a PCP, psychiatrist, and mental health counselor, make an older adult’s home care staff part of your team. With your loved one’s permission, let them know what to expect when they visit the home, as well as how to help the patient cope. Tell them to be sure to inform you of any mood changes and what management techniques seem to work well. By putting your heads together, you can ensure your loved one will be better able to enjoy a future that is tranquil, reassuring, and free from fear.
If you are unsure how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging can help you make these decisions and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.