Helping Older Adults Manage Anxiety - 7 Strategies to Consider

While overwhelming, and incapacitating fear and worry are the hallmarks of anxiety disorders, they get worse without treatment. Between 3 and 14% of older persons experience anxiety each year. Treatment will improve quality of life.

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Helping Older Adults Manage Anxiety - 7 Strategies to Consider
7 Min Read November 18th, 2022

Feeling anxious is a normal human experience. We all feel anxious at times. A certain amount of worry can be helpful in that it serves as a warning signal to the body that something is missing or that we are in danger. Anxiety used to be more of a cautionary indication, but in today's world, it's more of a crippling illness that you feel every time you go outside or turn on the TV. 

The older generations have a tough time dealing with anxiety. This is why we're here to share the top seven ways to help older adults overcome anxiety for all of you with anxious parents or grandparents.

Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health, says that older adults may have other health issues, making an anxiety diagnosis difficult. 

Conditions that commonly occur with age, such as depression, heart disease, and diabetes, may have symptoms that mimic or mask anxiety symptoms, making diagnosis in older adults difficult. Often, these health conditions will need to be addressed before a person will respond to treatment for an anxiety disorder.

It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between common anxiety that many older adults suffer caused by adapting to complex life changes that occur as we age — or anxiety due to fear of falling after a hip replacement—and an actual anxiety disorder.

Top Seven Ways to Help Older Adults Overcome Anxiety

It is predicted that one in three Americans are dealing with anxiety, sadness, or both due to the increasing pressures prevalent today, such as a worldwide pandemic. The adverse effects of anxiety are compounded for older adults. Many seniors either do not have ready access to mental health specialists or are simply unaware of the existence of such services.

Another issue that experts see every day more and more is that many older adults live alone, and so lack the support network necessary to make it to their appointments. Identifying anxiety in older family members can help get them the treatment that will make them feel much better and give them a better quality of life. So, if you know an older person in need, here are some ways. 

Two women talking.

Anxiety in older people is very common, especially if they live alone. 

1.     Recognize Range of Possible Anxiety Manifestations

Because of our evolutionary history, we react to threats with either fight, flight, or freeze. Depending on the individual, one of these reactions is more common than the others. In the face of stress and worry, some people tend to shut down and bury their heads in the sand. 

When some people are under pressure, they become more combative, impatient, and perfectionistic or dogmatic. You need to recognize the pattern in their behavior and learn how to spot these traits. Triggers for anxiety might be a lot of things. For many of our elderly citizens, it's adjusting to assisted living and being away from their families. 

2.     Healthy, Well-Balanced Diet

Diet is vital to overall good health. A steady energy supply is advantageous because it allows your brain to continue working properly. If you aren't getting enough healthy nutrients, your body can't function at its best. 

Anxiety is neither caused nor eliminated by any one food or vitamin, but a balanced diet may help keep the mind and body in good shape. But some meals can help you feel less anxious and keep you healthy. Some examples of these meals are salmon and other fatty fish and Zinc-rich foods, such as eggs, oysters, and cashews.

An individual's diet can help control anxiety, according to Dr. Uma Naidoo, a nutritional psychiatrist at Harvard.

In addition to healthy guidelines such as eating a balanced diet, drinking enough water to stay hydrated, and limiting or avoiding alcohol and caffeine, there are many other dietary considerations that can help relieve anxiety.

Dr. Naidoo says that complex carbohydrates are metabolized more slowly, which helps maintain a more even blood sugar level. This creates a calmer feeling. A diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits is a healthier option than eating many simple carbohydrates in processed foods. 

3.     Encourage Physical Activity

It's no secret that working out is a fantastic way to reduce stress, given all the other ways physical activity helps the body and the brain. 

Research shows aerobic exercise is beneficial. A simple bike ride, dance class, or even a brisk walk can be a powerful tool for those suffering from chronic anxiety. Activities like these also help people who feel overly nervous about an upcoming test, a big presentation, or an important meeting.

Harvard's John J. Ratey, MD, says exercise diverts you from the very thing you are anxious about. He says he has seen this firsthand in his practice.

Almost all physical activity releases endorphins, the "feel-good" hormone that lowers anxiety, improves mood, and creates an overall sense of well-being. It's essential to keep up a regular exercise routine, but it doesn't have to be very taxing or cause you to breathe rapidly or sweat much.

A man working out.

One of the best ways to help older adults overcome anxiety is to encourage them to exercise or walk with them.

4.     Help but Don't Control

Because avoidance is so central to anxiety, we may feel compelled to "help out" by doing things for our avoidant loved ones, even if doing so may reinforce their avoidance. If, for example, you always wind up making phone calls for your loved one because they are too anxious to do so themselves, they'll never learn to overcome their fear of doing so.

The golden rule to remember is that assistance implies assisting someone in assisting themselvesnot doing things for them. One option is to offer to accompany a loved one to their first treatment session, provided they initiate the process. Alternatively, you may help them come up with some criteria for selecting a therapist, but ultimately it would be up to them to make the decision.

5.     Encourage Them to Seek Professional Help

Recognizing when one needs assistance and then accepting it is the single most effective strategy for lowering anxiety. No matter how much you focus on the present now or how much you meditate, there will be days when you just can't seem to shake the tension, anxiety, or melancholy. 

Asking for assistance, especially from those closest to you, might be intimidating or humiliating. However, with anxiety affecting over 40 million Americans, it's safe to assume that your loved one is not alone in their thoughts and emotions. For example, perhaps your loved one is a veteran struggling and not knowing whom to turn to. You'll need to encourage them to get the necessary help, such as rehab for veterans, as soon as possible. There is a plethora of experts in the field of anxiety that are equipped to assist patients in learning to control their intense reactions.

6.     Avoid Stigmatizing Someone with Severe Anxiety Disorder

How can we help those whose problems are more severe? There is a real risk of paranoia for those with mental health issues such as panic disorder, depression with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or obsessive thinking (including thoughts connected to eating disorders). It might be difficult to imagine being able to help them.

Two women talking.

Remember to be very considerate when talking to your elderly loved ones and avoid nagging them too much if they don't want to talk. 

There are many ways in which you can provide assistance to the elderly who feel isolated and afraid. In times of extreme worry, it might be comforting to know that one's general opinion of oneself hasn't altered in your eyes. It's still the same individual going through a rough patch due to an out-of-control transitory scenario. They haven't been damaged, and their essential nature hasn't changed. Participating in or promoting the person's interests and activities helps them maintain good aspects of their identity.

7.     Remember - Take Care of Yourself as Well

You should remember that your intention is to aid, not to cure or eliminate the person's concern. Be wary of slipping into the trap of taking on too much responsibility, which is itself a sign of worry. Anxiety isn't the only thing that can be addressed in a supportive way. Anxiety sufferers may benefit greatly from physical activity, so you might suggest going for a walk or signing up for a yoga session together. It's OK to set boundaries around your help, too. A 20-minute talk about relieving tension while taking a stroll is far more likely to be productive (and less tiring) than a two-hour marathon debate.

Finding happiness in a life full of worry. With these ways to help older adults overcome anxiety, we're sure you'll be able to help your loved one regain control of their life. Remember, if you suspect they cannot manage their disease adequately on your own, it's better to seek expert guidance. If you want to make a difference in their lives, you should start utilizing these suggestions.

Are You Prepared for Aging?

Despite being one of the most prevalent psychiatric disorders in later life, anxiety gets little attention in long-term care facilities like nursing homes. In contrast, older persons receiving long-term care are generally aware of the effects of depression.

The effects of depression on elderly patients receiving long-term care are widely understood. Anxiety.org reports that long-term care residents more frequently experience anxiety than the general population.

Left untreated, anxiety can lead to a decline in an older person's ability to carry out daily tasks, poorer health, and decreased life satisfaction. 

You know that long-term health care costs are increasing nationwide, creating a financial crisis for many families. The LTC NEWS Cost of Care Calculator shows the current and future cost of care services where you live. The financial impact on your future retirement is tremendous. But, as you may already know, with older family loved ones, the family gets burdens when there is a long-term care crisis.

You can avoid this crisis with your family by planning beforehand. For many families, this means adding an affordable Long-Term Care Insurance policy to their retirement plan.

You can protect your 401(k), access quality care services, including in-home care, and reduce the stress and anxiety that is otherwise placed on adult children. Most people get their coverage in their 50s.

Avoid having anxiety shopping for Long-Term Care Insurance. Be sure to get the help of a qualified Long-Term Care Insurance specialist to match you with the right insurance company based on your age, health, and family history.

Mathew Jenner is a freelance journalist who focuses on writing helpful articles in order to assist readers with various topics he has experience with. As a student, he volunteered at a veteran center which immensely impacted his writing.

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About the Author

Mathew Jenner is a freelance journalist who focuses on writing helpful articles in order to assist readers with various topics he has experience with. As a student, he volunteered at a veteran center which immensely impacted his writing.

LTC News Contributor Mathew Jenner

Mathew Jenner

Contributor since November 18th, 2022

Editor's Note

People require long-term health care due to chronic illness, mobility problems, dementia, and the frailty of aging. It is hard to evade getting old. No matter how healthy you are today, at some point, you will likely need help with the routine living activities we take for granted today.

You cannot impose the responsibility of providing care on family members. They have their own lives, including families, occupations, and other commitments. It is challenging to balance these duties with being your long-term caregiver.

Long-Term Care Insurance will offer you guaranteed tax-free funds to pay for your choice of quality care services, including in-home care. Your 401(k) and other assets are secured, and your loved ones will have the time to be family instead of your caregivers.

Resources Available on LTC NEWS

Protecting your 401(k) and other investments against rising long-term health costs is the goal. Another thing to consider is allowing your loved ones the time to be family rather than having them take on the role of caregiver. To help you understand your alternatives for preparing for the financial costs and challenges of aging, LTC NEWS provides a plethora of information and resources that will assist you in your research.

There are a variety of tools and resources that LTC NEWS offers that can help you in your research:

  • The Ultimate Long-Term Care Insurance Guide - If you like details, you will enjoy this comprehensive guide to LTC Insurance. 

  • Long-Term Care Guides  - LTC NEWS has several other guides that can help you plan or find quality care.

  • Frequently Asked Questions - Get the answers to the most often asked questions about long-term health care planning and LTC Insurance.

  • Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim - Does a loved one - like your Mom or Dad - have a Long-Term Care Insurance policy and need to file a claim to get benefits? LTC NEWS will help. If they don't have a policy, but you need help in getting a plan of care and finding caregivers, LTC NEWS can also assist.

  • Reverse Mortgages - Learn about reverse mortgages and ask questions about how they work and if you or a loved one would benefit from one.

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