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Anxiety might be the most frustrating illness I see in the older adults because it is so hard to explain anxiety and why people have it.  I have met people who have worried their whole life and the anxiety is getting worse as they age.  On the flip side, I have also met people who have never experienced any anxiety, until being diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder in their older age.  


It is especially hard to understand this from the perspective of a family or caregiver.  Families and caregivers might feel like you should just stop worrying – like flipping a light switch off – but it just does not work that way.  I spend a lot of time trying to help families understand that anxiety is about replacing bad thoughts with good thoughts; it takes a lot of self-control, hard work, learning, support, and encouragement to overcome it.  


Listed are some basic definitions of anxiety.  While all are common, generalized anxiety and panic attacks are the most common among the senior population.


Acute Stress Disorder: Anxiety and behavioral disturbances that develop within the first month after exposure to an extreme trauma

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Symptoms of acute stress disorder that persist for more than one month

Panic Attacks: A sudden, unpredictable, intense, illogical fear and dread

Social Anxiety: A preoccupation with how a person is viewed by others

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): A pattern of excessive worrying over simple, everyday occurrences and events

Phobias: Irrational fear of situations such as heights, or fear of objects such as snakes

Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD): A pattern of intrusive thoughts that assault the mind and produce extreme anxiety that can only be mitigated by an action, such as hand washing in a ritualistic way.


There are several techniques to alleviate anxiety that can be very effective but they do take some work from the person suffering from it.  According to C & V Senior Care Specialists, you should practice these 6 steps:

  1. Recognize you are having anxiety.
  2. Give yourself permission to have anxiety.
  3. Breathe.  Do this by inhaling through your nose slowly for two seconds (mentally counting one-one thousand, two-one thousand).  Exhale through your nose to a mental count of four seconds.  Repeat this for 60 seconds.  
  4. Engage in positive and kind self-talk.  A person should already have their phrases they use handy such as:  “I am a strong person”, “I can handle this” or “I know this will pass”.
  5. Get busy and put all that extra energy to work.  Walk around, clean a closet, or fold laundry.  Do something that will distract you from your feelings that made lead to anxiety.  
  6. Find humor in it.  Try and laugh.  Remember that everyone gets anxious this is not uncommon. Find ways to not allow your thoughts about the anxiety to overcome you.  


Families and caregivers need to praise their loved one often.  Praise them just for the attempts to manage their anxiety and encourage independence whenever possible.  Talk to your loved one about the positive changes you have seen in them.  Offer as much support as you can when they are ready to tackle something that is new for them.  When you see the anxiety starting to take over, remind your loved one that it is just the anxiety and that they know this will pass.  If it is an actual panic attack, remind them that it will pass.  Provide reassurance if your loved one is getting discouraged about their progress.  Last of all, remain positive.  


If you or someone you know is suffering from some form of anxiety, please call us at Western Illinois Home Health at 1-800-228-5993.  Our nurses have been specially certified through C & V Senior Care Specialists to help patients and families coping with anxiety.  They are knowledgeable about the techniques and medications that provide relief and will work on weekly goals, offer support and help them get to a place where their anxiety is manageable.  


Amanda Powell, BSW, is a Senior Care Manager at Western Illinois Home Health Care


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Anxiety Later in Life

July 2015

by Amanda Powell