How to Recognize Anxiety and Depression in Older Adults

For some reason, most people don’t associate depression and anxiety with geriatric people as much as they do during other phases of life. No one can be blamed for this, really. It can be harder to identify these disorders in older adults for a variety of reasons.

The biggest reason the disorders are so difficult to identify, though, are because many older adults choose to ignore their symptoms. Or, they overlap their symptoms with other health issues they may be dealing with. So, mental conditions get overlooked because of physical conditions.

Many different factors can trigger feelings of anxiety and depression throughout someone’s life. In older individuals, it can even be connected to things like Alzheimer’s disease. There are many stresses and changes that go along with the aging process. These changes can easily lead to anxiety, whether someone is having trouble with their memory, their physical needs, or different losses in their lives.

Because older people don’t often seek out a diagnosis for these issues, it can sometimes be left up to family and friends to ‘keep an eye’ open to certain symptoms. Depression and anxiety can be treated at any age, once someone is properly diagnosed.
Common Signs of Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety can effect everyone differently, especially as we age. But, some of the most common symptoms include:

Changes in sleeping habits
Physical pain
Recurring thoughts of death

While an older person may notice these signs, or at least note that something feels ‘different,’ it’s less likely that they will associate it with an actual disorder, such as depression as anxiety. Unfortunately, if these symptoms (or others) are ignored for too long, they can lead to even bigger health or relational issues.

What Can I Do to Help?

If you’re concerned about an older friend or family member, one of the best things you can do is spend time with them, and observe their overall mental state and actions. Feel free to ask them about any changes they have been feeling or experiencing, and note any noticeable changes for yourself. Some prominent things to look for include:

Do they seem excessively worried about things out of their control?
Are they avoiding activities they once enjoyed?
Does their mood seem “off?”
Are they taking a new or different dosage of their regular medication?

If any of these factors ring true, or you simply notice other changes that don’t seem right, you can offer your loved one the help they deserve. Keep in mind that they may not always be willing to admit they have either of these disorders. Remaining calm and understanding in these situations is extremely important.

By offering an older loved one assistance to get the help they need, you could be ‘saving’ them from many other downfalls as they continue to get older. Mental disorders typically don’t go away without the right kind of help, and when an older individual can’t even fully comprehend what they might be going through, it can feel lonely and frightening. Let them know they’re not alone, and assure them that help is available.

Dr. Jeffrey Ditzel is a Psychiatrist in New York City and specializes in issues involving Anxiety and Depression.