An Elderly couple looking out at the ocean

Identifying and Managing Anxiety

While initial discomfort in senior living may be overcome by simply personalizing private spaces and nesting in the environment, prolonged discomfort may be a result of preexisting or newly developed anxieties. This is not to say that the growing pains of transitioning into a senior living community or occasional anxiety upon socializing is an extension of some greater problem. However, in order to accommodate for known and unknown needs of residents, keeping an eye out for previously overlooked or dismissed concerns makes senior living such a uniquely helpful tool for the senior community.

Anxiety comes and goes but it also looks and feels different for everyone. Recognizing when your friends, your peers, your family, or even you, yourself, are tackling stress and anxiety is a big, first step in the right direction. While management of these feelings may introduce unexpected challenges, having an appreciation for the awareness and consciousness of them has a huge positive impact on quality of life – diagnosed condition or not. Below we have listed common representations of anxiety in the senior community ranging from infrequent to diagnosed conditions

Anxiety Conditions

Phobias

A phobia is considered a heightened, irrational fear of a place, item, or event which would otherwise not be threatening. Specific but typical phobias for seniors include: death, disaster, dentistry, elongated travel (time or distance), public spaces and heights.

Social Anxiety

This form of anxiety can manifest itself in many different ways. Extreme self-consciousness, overwhelm, fear or perception of judgment, fear or perception of embarrassment are all examples of social anxieties.
Residents managing dementia conditions often experience social anxieties as a result. Sensitivity and management practices are a invaluable in memory care residences because of the nature of those respective memory conditions and related conditions like social anxiety.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD is  linked to a specific traumatic event or experience that provoked a physical threat or the perception thereof. Expressions of PTSD may take month or even years to present publicly or even consciously for the individual.
In the senior population, PTSD is often triggered by newly developed disabilities or similar contemporary representations of the previous threat and/or trauma.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Where the preceding expressions of anxiety are often pinpointed to specific experiences, generalized anxiety disorder is manifested through enduring worry, upset, or feelings of threat. Symptoms that are common to older individuals can include: fatigue, head/chest pains, muscular tension, twitching, hot flashes as well as difficulty relaxing, resting, and concentrating.

Co-Occurring Symptoms

While not an explicit form of anxiety, co-occurring symptoms are often common for individuals managing their anxiety. The variation between depression and anxiety can often be difficult to discern but research has shown that these two conditions, especially, occur concurrently. There are also researchers upholding claims that certain neuropsychiatric conditions – like anxiety – are instinctive to dementia.

 

Keeping an eye out for co-occurring symptoms is another primary function for assisted living staff and other senior living communities. Understanding you or your family member’s conditions and overall needs is crucial to their experience not only as someone managing mental health but as an individual.

Note that this is a brief overview of anxiety behaviors and conditions. If you would like to learn more, the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry offers many resources, especially on anxiety. However, if you are feeling regular or constant anxiety, please reach out to a staff member (for those living in a senior community) or meet with your health care provider for a mental health referral. Remember, there are professionals that are equipped and eager to aid in your management of these and other complex experiences. Maintaining an awareness and understanding of mental health is of utmost importance for senior living in private and social experiences.

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