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Anxiety Disorders in Elderly Australians

Contrary to common belief, anxiety in older people is not normal or par for the course and should not be ignored. An estimated 10–15% of older Australians who live in the community experience anxiety or
depression (Haralambous et al. 2009). However, research has shown that certain sub-groups of the
older population are at higher risk of experiencing poor mental health. This is likely due to isolation, standards of residential living and associated degenerative conditions like dementia.

Studies show that anxiety disorders are more common in older women than men and that in general, anxiety disorders are more likely to occur in younger adults unless the older adult has a past history of anxiety.

Anxiety is not a normal part of aging and should be given appropriate clinical attention if symptoms of anxiety present in an older person. Anxiety disorders typically occur in conjunction with other mental and physical illness and commonly alcohol abuse which can make it difficult to diagnose.

There are three main types of anxiety disorders including, generalised anxiety disorders, social phobias and panic attacks.

Generalised Anxiety Disorders typically present in extreme worriers who seem to have a negative or pessimistic view of the world, always assuming the worst will happen. Although it is normal to worry about life, finances, children and relationships, people with generalised anxiety disorder find it difficult to get through the day, as the worry can be all consuming and sometimes debilitating.

Social Phobia is another form of anxiety where a person’s fear of social situations, prevent them from participating in daily tasks, like going to work, meeting with friends and even doing the groceries.

Panic Disorders are a sudden attack or onset of uncontrollable fear or terror, resulting in physical symptoms like a cold sweat and heart palpitations. Panic attacks occur at any time and the person experiencing the attack may feel an intense sense of fear or impending doom.

The good news is anxiety disorders are treatable using a combination of therapies and sometimes medication to alleviates symptoms. Psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy are commonly used by psychologist to treat anxiety disorders. If you or someone you care for is experiencing symptoms of anxiety, don’t deal with it alone, speak to your doctor or a health professional about it.

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