Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) has been found to be the leading anxiety disorder in the elderly. Generalized anxiety disorder consists of persistent, excessive and unrealistic worry. It is a daily occurrence that plagues sufferers. These individuals often expect the worst, even without any reason to believe something bad will occur. Anything in their life can lead to potential disaster and those with GAD are always worrying about this pending disaster. When symptoms and worry occur for at least six months straight, that is when a person will receive a diagnosis.
An estimated 6.8 million Americans suffer from GAD and women are twice as likely to be affected by it. Worry can become so overwhelming that the individual simply doesn’t know what to do or feels like they lack control of their own life. When the case is mild or the patient is treated, a person with GAD is able to socialize and maintain an occupation. But when GAD is severe it can limit a person’s ability to function properly in public settings and can contribute to work production loss and even loss of occupation.
Although GAD affects children and adolescents the most, new research suggests that late-life GAD – which affects seniors – is the most common form of anxiety.
90% of late-life anxiety in the elderly is generalized anxiety disorder
Complications arise when diagnosing seniors with anxiety as often the symptoms may be associated with other illnesses or even masked by other conditions. For this reason GAD may appear “silent” but research reveals it truly isn’t.
Generalized anxiety disorder affects double the amount of seniors than dementia and is four to eight times more prevalent than major depressive disorders. GAD can contribute to a poorer quality of life in the elderly and further health complications. Complications can also arise with treatment of GAD; many seniors already take a slew of medications for other ailments, so there is a higher risk of drug interaction. It is recommended that seniors with GAD seek out cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) as an alternative to medications as a means of treatment.
Anxiety disorders in general have historically been believed to be a child or young adult problem, so GAD in the elderly is understudied and often overlooked.
There are many factors that increase a senior’s risk of developing generalized anxiety disorder, such as:
- Medical conditions
- Traumatic events
- Lack of social support
- Another psychiatric illness
- Poor self-rated health
In order to better assist seniors with GAD it’s important to recognize the associated symptoms and not confuse GAD with another condition.
Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder
Whether you’re a care-giver or a senior who’s concerned about your mental health, the first step is to distinguish the specific symptoms associated with generalized anxiety disorder. By knowing the symptoms you can begin to recognize what is really going on – whether it truly is GAD or another condition all together.
Symptoms of GAD are:
- Constant and persistent worrying
- Feeling like anxiety is out of control – nothing you do can make you stop worrying
- Can’t avoid thinking about things that lead to worry
- Cannot tolerate uncertainty
- Feeling apprehensive
- Cannot relax, be alone
- Trouble concentrating
- Putting off tasks due to being overwhelmed
- Avoiding situations which make you anxious
- Feeling tense, muscle and body aches
- Difficulties falling or staying asleep
- Feeling edgy, restless or jumpy
- Stomach and digestive issues
- Frequent trips to the bathroom
- Unrealistic view of problems
It’s important to note that we may all encounter these symptoms at one time or another; therefore, to classify GAD the symptoms must be present for at least six months.
Common causes for generalized anxiety disorder
Like many mental health disorders there is no exact cause for generalized anxiety disorder. Speculating factors that may contribute to the onset of GAD are:
Genetics: Some research findings have found a link between genetics and GAD and found it can be genetic.
Brain chemistry: Abnormal functioning of certain nerve cells has been seen to contribute to GAD. Nerve cells responsible for thinking and emotion do not run along the brains pathways properly, thus resulting in problems with mood and anxiety. Some medication works to repair these nerve cells and improve signaling.
Environmental factors: Abuse, stress, death of a loved one, loss or change, change of job or school and trauma are just some environmental factors which may play a role in the cause of GAD. Furthermore, symptoms of GAD may worsen during times of high stress.
Lifestyle changes and home remedies for GAD
Even though you may feel like your anxiety is out of control and nothing you do can help, there are some lifestyle and home remedies that can ease your anxiety and make daily living much more manageable.
Lifestyle and home remedies for GAD are:
- Exercise, which has been shown to boost and elevate mood.
- Avoid alcohol and other sedatives.
- Quit smoking and reduce caffeine consumption – avoid all stimulants as they can increase worry and anxiety.
- Use relaxation techniques – tai chi, yoga and deep breathing meditation.
- Improve your sleep.
- Eat healthy – junk food not only affects you stomach but it can affect your brain as well.
Preventing generalized anxiety disorder
Because there isn’t an exact cause for generalized anxiety disorder, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what will be the best prevention method against it. What we do know is that lifestyle habits can better help protect you from developing GAD.
Some useful prevention tips include:
- Seek help early on – the longer the condition goes untreated, the worse and harder it will be to treat.
- Keep a journal and document your life – you may find the root of your anxiety scribbled on the paper.
- Prioritize issues – instead of trying to tackle all problems at once use a one-step at a time approach instead.
- Avoid unhealthy substance use – stimulants and the use of illicit drugs can worsen all mental health conditions, not just anxiety.
- Reduce your intake or eliminate caffeine use.
- Always speak to a doctor or pharmacists prior to beginning herbal drugs.
- Exercise daily.
- Practice stress management.
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