This text is part of the special booklet Aging well, staying young
While many of us know anxious elderly people, few of us take the time to see possible anxiety disorders that can sometimes significantly disrupt the daily lives of our seniors. Sébastien Grenier, psychologist and founder of the geriatric anxiety research program at the University of Montreal, is interested in this increasingly common problem.
While anxiety in young people has been the subject of much ink in recent years, geriatric anxiety remains unknown to the public. However, the symptoms are very much the same: constant anxiety-inducing thoughts, inability to function due to too much stress, physical ailments, targeted phobias, among others. If anxiety is the evil of the century, it certainly does not spare members of the golden age.
A well hidden evil?
“You first have to define what an elderly person is,” explains Sébastien Grenier. Because if for a majority of Quebecers, people 65 years and over are elderly, there are significant differences between age groups when it comes to anxiety. “Our studies are indeed targeting people 65 and over, but having done a lot of consultations in private clinics with people aged 80 to 85, I can assure you that we are talking about very different anxiety depending on the period. of life, ”says the specialist.
Indeed, if there is one element that changes dramatically depending on the age of people with anxiety disorders, it is the trigger for the anxiety. For example, the anxiety of a 20-year-old will be linked to her university results, her finances or her housing. For an anxious person entering their sixties, for example, the trigger will be retirement and adjustment to a new life. In older people, the triggers will sometimes be less concrete and more profound. We can think of the fear of abandonment or the fear of isolation. For others, it will be the fear of a physical illness that will take over, for example the fear of falling or the fear of being affected by an incurable disease.
You have to be well surrounded to be happy, and that’s no secret! It is more important than anything, and even more so for the elderly. “
“The problem with geriatric anxiety is that it is often camouflaged by physical problems which will be diagnosed by the doctor,” explains Sébastien Grenier. Sometimes it really is about poorly managed and camouflaged anxiety. For example, when an elderly person goes to their doctor for chronic stomach aches or migraines, these can be caused by anxiety, and that makes it difficult for the doctor. “
Mr. Grenier’s research team therefore advises relatives of the elderly to be attentive to changes in behavior and to remain attentive to their moods.
Relieve our best
While geriatric anxiety is more difficult to diagnose, and it can be difficult for loved ones to determine when worries are taking up too much of an older person’s life, one sign doesn’t lie: the ability to do this. no one to operate. The interference of worries in the daily life of the elderly is a fundamental issue when talking about diagnosis.
“This is an aspect that is not easy to determine even among young people. I believe that regardless of age, the question remains the same: are worries preventing the person from functioning during the day? Does that prevent him from sleeping? It is when the worry is constant that it deserves to be treated medically, ”explains Grenier.
While medication may sometimes seem like the easiest option for loved ones of an anxious person, this is not necessarily the case. From his point of view as a psychologist, Sébastien Grenier also advises against first-resort medications for those who suffer from anxiety, whether they are old or young.
“I am convinced that psychotherapy should remain the best course for people with anxiety. And then, certain antidepressant-type drugs also have the effect of increasing loss of balance and the risk of falls in addition to increasing memory problems, ”he explains.
In addition to cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy, Mr. Grenier recommends a caring and constant environment for the elderly, coupled with attentive listening from their loved ones. When these people have relatives to confide in and talk to about their anxieties, they quickly become more serene and the step towards therapy is easier.
“They need people with whom they are comfortable to help them verbalize how they feel,” concludes the researcher. You have to be well surrounded to be happy, and that’s no secret! It is more important than anything, and even more so for the elderly. Listen to them, this is the best way to help them. ”