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Anxiety Disorders in Older Adults

Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. You might feel anxious when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or making an important decision.

However, anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. These feelings can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.

Studies estimate that anxiety disorders affect up to 15 percent of older adults in a given year. More women than men experience anxiety disorders. They tend to be less common among older adults than younger adults. But developing an anxiety disorder late in life is not a normal part of aging.

Anxiety disorders commonly occur along with other mental or physical illnesses, including alcohol or substance abuse, which may mask anxiety symptoms or make them worse. In older adults, anxiety disorders often occur at the same time as depression, heart disease, diabetes, and other medical problems. In some cases, these other problems need to be treated before a person can respond well to treatment for anxiety.

There are several types of anxiety disorders, including: panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, and generalized anxiety disorder.

Symptoms vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder, but general symptoms include:

  • Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness
  • Problems sleeping
  • Cold or sweaty hands and/or feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Inability to be still and calm
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Nausea
  • Muscle tension
  • Dizziness