Helping an elderly cope up with anxiety, loneliness and stress at home

Dr Neeraj Raj B

Consultant Psychiatrist
Aster RV Hospital – Bengaluru

Anxiety is one of the most common symptoms seen in the elderly. During the crisis, despondency, misery along with fear and anxiety is common. Anxiety in elderly can also be seen in terms of uneasy, restlessness or sometimes agitation. Sense of loneliness, fear of being alone and fear of falling can be common.

Like the young, anxiety in elderly has similar features consisting of muscle tension, worry, easy fatiguability and sleep disturbance. However, the level of cognitive and somatic distress during the attack may be less. This may impair social functions and increase avoidance behaviour. Elderly population are especially vulnerable if they have risk factors like low socio economic status, being childless, being single/ alone or widowed, chronic medical illness like diabetes, hypertension, cardiac illness, poor self- rated health, functional impairment, childhood trauma (pre- sensitised with stress), personality vulnerabilities like neuroticism, poor coping skills, a comorbid neuropsychiatric disorder like depression, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, etc; low self-efficacy, poor support system/ networks, cognitive impairment and major illness in a partner.

Social distancing can further affect physical mental well-being. Thus, it becomes important as caregivers/ family members to identify the anxiety of the elderly. It’s important to address their concerns and reassure them. Social distancing along with emotional distancing can be detrimental. It is important to use altruism and compassion while providing emotional support. However, when anxiety is severe leading to biological and socio-occupation dysfunction it becomes essential to consult professional help through teleconsultation etc during these difficult times.

Few recommendations:

  • Senior citizens can keep themselves productive by following a time-table. It could be following physical exercises/ yoga with meditation. [Refer to our exercises for all age-groups for guidance on home exercise].
  • Reading books of interest, newspapers. May be even
  • Involve them in teaching grandchildren moral values or playing with them.
  • Speak with family members regularly.
  • Focusing on positives and obtaining information from authentic sources is important. One can limit it to 1-2 hrs per day. Not to focus only on crisis but also to other aspects that is happening in the world. A daily dose of goodness can be found on these websites.
  • One can also practice spirituality or religious teaching if that is helpful to maintain mental peace.
  • One also need to be cognizant of ruminating potential of negative thoughts and to use timely distraction and relaxation exercises if required.
  • Help acknowledge and appreciate that our thought, feelings and behaviour are interlinked

Help can be sought from a medical professional anonymously through Aster’s Serenity App.