Senior Living: Dealing with anxiety disorder

Q. My dad used to be a happy-go-lucky guy, always upbeat and joking around, but now he seems to dwell on all the bad news on TV and he doesn't want to go out of the house because it might rain or there might be traffic. Should I be concerned?

We all worry from time to time. Worrying is normal. It motivates us to think through problems and develop solutions.

But sometimes worrying seems to take over a person's life. If your dad is worrying excessively, so much so that it affects daily tasks and relationships, he may have an anxiety disorder.

Seniors are at high risk for clinical anxiety disorders. These can be related to stress and trauma, grief and loss, alcohol or prescription drugs, or other health conditions such as heart disease, dementia or depression. According to the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, up to 20% of older adults are dealing with some form of this condition.

How can family tell if there's a problem? Be alert to the signs of clinical anxiety disorder, which might include:

•Exaggerated worry and fear;

•Increased self-consciousness;

•Withdrawal from social interactions;

•Shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat and lightheadedness;

•Increased muscle tension or shaking;

•Problems falling asleep or staying asleep; and,

•Self-medication with alcohol or other substances.

If you notice these signs, encourage your father to be evaluated by his healthcare provider. Anxiety disorders are very treatable. Treatment might include psychotherapy, relaxation training, medication, support groups and beneficial lifestyle changes. Most seniors benefit from a combination of approaches.

The best outcomes result from teamwork between seniors, healthcare providers and family members. Family-members should learn all they can about the senior's condition, and provide support and encouragement as he or she seeks treatment.

NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, e-mail it to or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.

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