Anxiety is common especially in the elderly population.

Anxiety can be characterised by the feelings of tension and worrisome thoughts. Anxiety is a normal process in life. However, anxiety becomes a disorder when it becomes excessive and persistent, causing significant personal distress and affecting a person’s daily function.

"Anxiety disorder is a common condition but unfortunately, is under-recognized. It is vital to identify and treat anxiety as early as possible as untreated anxiety increases morbidity and mortality. Individuals with anxiety disorder are at greater risk for heart disease, stroke and depression," shared the Department of Psychiatry from     Sengkang General Hospital (SKH), a member of the SingHealth group.

"The estimated prevalence rates of late-life anxiety disorder ranges from 1.5% to 15%. The common types of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social phobia and specific phobia," she added.

Late-life anxiety disorders are significantly associated with comorbid major depression. The course of illness tends to be chronic with fluctuation in the severity of symptoms.

8 Easy ways to prevent anxiety in elderly (late-life anxiety)

1. Eat a well-balanced diet.

Consider including multivitamin supplements.

2. Limit alcohol and caffeinated drinks such as coffee, teas or sodas.

3. Get adequate rest / sleep.

4. Trim a hectic schedule to its most essential items.

Try to limit activities that are not relaxing.

5. Keep track of events or things that cause more anxiety or less anxiety.

6. Take time out for yourself every day.

Even 20 minutes of relaxation can decrease your anxiety.

7. Keep a healthy and active lifestyle. Exercise regularly.

8. Effective treatment starts with early detection

You can take a simple screening directly on your mobile phone to test for symptoms of depression, using the SingHealth Health Buddy app (click here to learn more about Health Buddy's "Senior Wellness" function). There, you will also find simple strategies to cope with early symptoms.

Treatment is available for depression. The two main forms of treatments include:
  • Medication

  • Talking therapy.

So, talk to your doctor about your concerns and seek help early.

Common risk factors for anxiety in elderly (late-life anxiety)

The risk factors of late-life anxiety are a complex combination of both biological and environmental factors.

a) Biological risk factors

  • Women are twice as likely as men to have risk factors.

  • A family history of mental illness (anxiety/mood disorders) predisposes one to develop anxiety/mood disorders.

  • People with chronic physical illnesses have a greater risk of developing anxiety disorder. For example, excessive fear of falling leads to an individual's avoidance of activities that they remain capable of performing.

b) Environmental risk factors

  • Loneliness or lack of social support is one of the main environmental factors.

  • Another factor is low socioeconomic status or recent stressful life events such as the loss of loved ones.

  • Having to care for sick family member also increases the risk of developing anxiety.

  • In the current climate, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic predispose one to mental illnesses.

Common symptoms of anxiety in elderly (late-life anxiety)

Anxiety can present in both physical and emotional symptoms. People may not be aware that physical symptoms are linked to anxiety.

Emotional symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Excessive and irrational worrying, even when there are no signs of trouble

  • Inability to relax

  • Hard time concentrating, mind going blank

  • Tense of jumpy feelings

  • Irritability or restlessness

  • Problems sleeping

Physical symptoms may include:

  • Headaches

  • Fatigue

  • Trembling

  • Racing heart

  • Sweating

  • Numbness/tingling sensation

  • Muscle tension

  • Light-headedness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Gastrointestinal discomfort (e.g. diarrhea, nausea, heartburn)

Ref: J22