Providing care for someone with an anxiety disorder can be very difficult. It is crucial that when caring for someone, you are very aware that there are two distinct facets to providing care: offering support and care for the person suffering from the anxiety disorder and providing care for yourself — this last part is critical, especially in the long run of the disorder.
While there are many types of anxiety disorders, researchers say generalized anxiety disorder may be the most common mental disorder among the elderly. The symptoms of anxiety disorders can affect every aspect of someone’s life, including energy, appetite, sleep and interest in work, hobbies and relationships.
Anxiety disorders often involve inappropriate, unwarranted fears that are not the result of a real threat. These irrational fears can have negative effects on relationships, work and one’s emotional stability. Yet with treatment and support, most afflicted individuals can cope with this disorder and lead normal, productive lives.
First, it is important to begin to move the afflicted individual in the proper direction: therapy and/or medication. You can do this by offering support in a non-judgmental manner, being predictable and steady in your support and offering the type of support that allows the person the ability to move at their own pace.
One way to accomplish this is to provide plenty of information about anxiety disorder, thus allowing the person to understand what is happening. This will enable the individual to make decisions as to what course of treatment to move into and when to begin such treatment.
Next, you should understand that it is important to take care of yourself, as this will likely be a long course of support for the person suffering from anxiety disorder. Your strength and stamina may very well have much to do with the success or failure of treatment.
Here are a few tips for taking care of yourself:
• Seek out some support counseling for yourself.
• Educate yourself on anxiety disorders — the Internet and library are great sources.
• Stay healthy by exercising and eating properly.
• Spend some time alone, with your family, and/or involved with one of your hobbies.
As your loved one’s anxiety disorder progresses through its lifespan other issues may surface: relationship problems, work issues and your loved one’s emotional stability may fluctuate. It is critical that you remain unbiased in your actions and conversations with your loved one. Understand that he or she is losing some control over his or her emotional rationality and as a result may not see issues in a normal manner or act in appropriate or customary ways.
Who can help?
Older adults who think they may be suffering from anxiety should share their concerns with their primary care physicians. A physician can help determine if the symptoms are due to an anxiety disorder, a medical condition or both. If the physician diagnoses an anxiety disorder, the next step is to see a mental health care professional. Both patient and provider should work as a team to make a plan to treat the anxiety disorder.
Untreated anxiety can lead to cognitive impairment, disability, poor physical health and a poor quality of life. Quite often, anxiety is treatable with prescription drugs and therapy.
The Anxiety Disorders Association of America offers the following suggestions when talking with a loved one who exhibits signs of an anxiety problem:
• Be calm and reassuring.
• Acknowledge their fears but do not play along with them.
• Be supportive without supporting their anxiety.
• Encourage them to engage in social activities.
• Offer assistance in getting them help from a physician or mental health professional.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, go to www.visitingangels.com/comtns or call 970-328-5526.