Opinion

NAMI address anxiety and depression in older adults

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Many older adults are faced with challenges that cause anxiety and depression. Troubled family relationships, lack of money, loneliness, life-span losses, complicated grief, traumas, personal health and the health of others, safety concerns, and death are broad classifications of situations that cause worries and fears leading to anxiety and possibly depression. Late-life anxiety can occur alone, but may be accompanied by depression.

Anxiety, specifically generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), occurs in 10 to 20 percent of older adults. Symptoms of GAD are difficulty sleeping, poor concentration, muscle tension and aches, headaches, trembling, twitching, nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pains, memory difficulties, racing heart, avoidance of social situations, difficulty swallowing, sweating, and an easy startle response. If constant and chronic worries or fears, exhibited by one or more of these symptoms, last for six months, chances are an older individual suffers from generalized anxiety disorder. cognitive impairment, disability, poor physical health, and a poor quality of life can result from untreated GAD.

Depression occurs in only 1 to 3 percent of older adults, but it carries a risk of suicide. The same symptoms that occur in GAD often occur in cases of depression. However, with depression there is also persistent sadness, tearfulness, lack of interest in once pleasurable activities, loss of self-esteem, lack of energy or motivation, feelings of guilt, changes in appetite, and suicidality. Self-medication with alcohol or other central nervous system depressants may occur. If a person experiences these symptoms for more than two weeks, a diagnosis of depression is likely. If alcohol and drug abuse are present, an individual may have what is known as a dual diagnosis requiring treatment for both conditions. Lack of treatment of depression could result in cognitive impairment, poor physical health, and suicide.

You may realize after reviewing the information in this article that you are experiencing GAD or depression on some level. Further diagnosis may be confirmed by a primary physician using screening devices and interview. Subsequently, medication or talk therapy might be prescribed. Although psychiatric drugs may be safely prescribed to younger adults to treat anxiety and depression, they are not recommended for adults over 65 years of age. The Beer’s List, found online, does not recommend psychiatric drugs for the older population because human brains become fragile with age. The use of psychiatric drugs in older people can cause cognitive impairment and should be avoided in all but very severe cases. If you want to try talk therapy, make sure your primary care physician writes a referral prescription for you to see a qualified mental health professional. A full medical evaluation is recommended to rule out or treat any disease process that might be causing anxiety or depression.

There are other non-pharmaceutical treatments for GAD and depression such as cognitive behavior therapy, which is addressed by an appropriate mental health professional. Simple forms of exercise, such as walking regularly, and a whole food plant-based diet are often suggested. Alternative treatments such as massage and acupuncture can release feel-good, therapeutic chemical responses. Other self-help therapies are journaling, meditation, visual imagery, and aromatherapy, emotional freedom technique, and relaxation therapies. Getting out in nature and socializing can relieve stress and depression.

Another non-clinical way that older people with GAD and depression can help themselves is to join a support group of friendly, caring people who are experiencing similar symptoms and feelings. NAMI Piscataquis County will begin such a support group at the Dover-Foxcroft Congregational Church at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 4. NAMI’s new “Senior Support for Older Adults Experiencing Anxiety and Depression” will embrace two components: education sessions and support sessions. Education sessions will feature speakers focusing on understanding anxiety and depression as well as self-help. Support sessions will provide the opportunity to share in a confidential and non-judgmental setting any specifics and commonalities occurring in the challenges of dealing with anxiety and depression. No medical diagnosis is required to participate in the support group. If you are a family member of a senior citizen struggling with anxiety and depression, this support group is for you, too.

For more information about the educational programs and the support group and to register, call 924-7903 or leave contact information and questions at nami.piscataquis@gmail.com.

Ranagan is president of NAMI Piscataquis County, an affiliate of NAMI Maine.

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