Anxiety in Seniors – Why is it so Hard to Diagnose?
By Kevin Edwards, President
Despite what researchers had believed for decades, anxiety problems are very prevalent among the elderly. This anxiety can be caused by a number of things, such as stress, dietary problems, medical conditions, and side effects of medications. However, it is often missed by doctors because it does not always present itself the same way in elders as it does in younger adults.
For elders, anxiety is often associated with pain: headaches, chest tightness, difficulty breathing. The senior is then taken to a medical doctor, who is less able to diagnose a psychological issue than a psychiatrist or therapist would be. The problem is then usually attributed to a medical condition instead of a mental one, which can delay the proper treatment and force the patient to have to suffer from anxiety for even longer.
Another reason why anxiety in seniors is often either misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all is because many elderly men and women simply won’t admit that they are having a problem. They don’t think that anxiety is something that is a real, physical malady; they grew up in a time where emotions were not as admirable and acceptable as they are today. They don’t want anyone to see them as weak, or as mentally unstable, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Although the world as a whole is more accepting of anxiety and other mental health issues today, there are still many older people whose mindset is still that of decades ago: keep your problems to yourself.
In addition to this problem, doctors are only now starting to realize that anxiety and depression are just as common among the elderly as they are among other adults. As mentioned in the introduction, doctors and scientists once believed that these problems declined with age. They seemed to assume that anxiety just became “phased out” as one got older, because it was reported less by the elderly. But, as we just discussed, a lack of reporting does not equal a lack of presence.
Anxiety is a real problem, and the fact that it is not being readily reported doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening. It is important for you, your elder care aide, and your doctor to all probe deeper to find out if anxiety is a problem for your loved one. You can’t just accept that they are fine in spite of obvious panic attacks, fearfulness, or constant high stress. Ignoring the problems will not make it go away.
But how can you make sure that your loved one gets diagnosed properly so that they can get the care they need?
The most important thing is to talk to your loved one. Ask them if something is bothering them, and make sure they know that it is okay to talk to you if they are feeling anxious. You and your elder care aide should also keep an eye out for symptoms of anxiety, as your senior may not always bring them up to you first. With a little understanding and a little faith on the part of your loved one, anxiety doesn’t have to go undiagnosed.