Feeling anxious or nervous is a common emotion for people of all ages and a normal reaction to stress. Feeling anxious can help us handle problems and strange situations, and even avoid danger. It is normal to feel anxious about illnesses, new social interactions, and frightening events. But when one feels anxious often and the anxiety is overwhelming and affects daily tasks, social life, and relationships, it may be an illness.
Anxiety is a common illness among older adults, affecting as many as 10-20 percent of the older population, though it is often undiagnosed. Phobiawhen an individual is fearful of certain things, places or eventsis the most typical type of anxiety. Among adults, anxiety is the most common mental health problem for women, and the second most common for men, after substance abuse.
Older adults with anxiety disorders often go untreated for a number of reasons. Older adults often do not recognize or acknowledge their symptoms. When they do, they may be reluctant to discuss their feelings with their physicians. Some older adults may not seek treatment because they have suffered symptoms of anxiety for most of their lives and believe the feelings are normal. Both patients and physicians may miss a diagnosis of anxiety because of other medical conditions and prescription drug use, or particular situations that the patient is coping with. For example, the anxiety suffered by a recently widowed patient may be more than normal grieving. Complicated or chronic grief is often accompanied by persistent anxiety and grieving spouses may avoid reminders of the deceased.
Untreated anxiety can lead to cognitive impairment, disability, poor physical health, and a poor quality of life. Fortunately, anxiety is treatable with prescription drugs and therapy.