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Anxiety in later life

Thursday, 12 January 2012. Posted in Later Life Issues

Anxiety at any time of life can be hard to cope with. With overlaying issues in later life anxiety can cause other physical problems so it is important to seek advice and support. At Clinical Partners our team of psychiatrists and psychotherapists will be able to offer empathetic support and therapy in exactly the issues you are struggling with.

Anxiety disorders in later life

Symptoms and treatment of late-life anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders may affect as many as 10% of those in later life. The medical challenge with diagnosing and treating late-life anxiety disorders is their relationship with physical illness. Anxiety disorders often lead to perceived physical ailments, and are also aggravated by real physical problems.

But there’s no doubt that late-life anxiety disorder is a serious matter. Studies show that the relationship between anxiety disorders and hospital admittance increases exponentially with age. There also appears to be a clear relationship between anxiety disorders and chronic illness, coronary artery disease and mortality.

People with anxiety disorders also often have a negative attitude towards their medical treatment and perceived recovery, leading to decreased physical exercise and increased dependence on others.

What are the symptoms of late-life anxiety?

In general, anxiety disorders are associated with increased behavioural problems, impaired social skills and increased dependence on others. They also affect the processing of memories, leading to short-term memory loss and memory gaps.

Why a specialist diagnosis is so important for late-life anxiety

It can be difficult to diagnose later-life anxiety because the individual concerned will normally present a physical, medical or external concern – the thing that they are anxious about at that point. This could be an illness, a change in vision or hearing, or other concerns such as financial worries and security concerns.

People with late-life anxiety often mimic physical symptoms including muscle tension, muscle pain, shortness of breath and heart palpitations. They also tend to exaggerate the severity and frequency of symptoms to family and medical professionals.

Another diagnostic complication is that symptoms like agitation and restlessness may be mistaken for dementia, which may or may not be a co-occurring condition in each particular case.

If you think you may need treatment,
call us to arrange a private consultation.

0203 326 9160

Chronic illness and later-life anxiety disorders

The likelihood of a chronic medical condition such as hypertension, diabetes or arthritis increases with age and anxiety is a natural consequence of these. This makes it difficult to diagnose an anxiety disorder as opposed to natural anxiety.

Late-life anxiety disorders and depression

Anxiety disorders and depression often go hand-in-hand among the those in later life and it’s an extremely serious combination. People with both anxiety and depression tend to suffer a much-reduced quality of life and increased disability, more severe physical symptoms and high suicidal impulses.

Treatment for late-life anxiety disorders

Because of the difficulty of diagnosing late-life anxiety disorders, few affected adults receive care from mental health professionals and typically rely on GP-prescribed medications.

However it is becoming clear that a combination of medication and psychosocial treatment can reduce symptoms of anxiety disorders among the elderly.

  • While benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed, caution is advised as they are associated with dependence, decreased mental ability, walking difficulties and an increased risk of falling and resultant hip fracture.
  • Some antidepressants appear to be effective at reducing anxiety in addition to depression. However there are risks with drug-drug interactions and a failure to stick to a dosage schedule.
  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) for late-life anxiety disorder –  involving relaxation skills, problem solving, exposure to feared or avoided stimuli, sleep hygiene and various other techniques – is also proving highly beneficial.

Late-life anxiety and dementia

Dementia is a complicating factor for patients with late-life anxiety, as the psychiatric medicines that are commonly prescribed for anxiety disorders can have adverse effects on dementia sufferers.

Instead, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is normally suggested – along with the specific dementia treatment suited to the particular type of dementia. If possible, the spouse, or other family member or carer, is recruited to help the affected individual practise the recommended behavioural techniques.

How Clinical Partners can help

Simply call our clinical team in confidence on 0203 326 9160 and we will recommend the most suitable therapist or support group for your individual situation.

Read more about treatment and support for anxiety in later life.


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Call us for help today