Personal Support Worker

What Those in PSW College Should Know About Anxiety in Seniors

December 12, 2020

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Anxiety is classified by health professionals as a mental health state, characterized primarily by feelings of fear and worry. Anxiety ranges in its severity, and can become a problem for many if it becomes severe and left unattended, negatively impacting their quality of life. Seniors are particularly prone to anxiety, with recent research revealing generalized anxiety disorder to represent the most common form of mental illness in people over the age of 60.

As one of the common roles taken on by the personal support worker (PSW) is to provide assistance and companionship to people of this age category in various settings, it will be helpful to understand more on the link between anxiety and the senior population. We take a closer look below.

Why Are Seniors Prone to Anxiety?

Research on anxiety in the senior population points to chronic illness, discomfort from pain, insomnia, decreased mobility, feelings of isolation, the side effects of prescription drugs, and a reduction of independence as factors that can make them more at risk of developing anxiety. The prospect of reaching the end of one’s life is also on a lot of seniors’ minds, which can promote anxiety. In addition, seniors may also have endured the loss of friends and older family members by this stage of life, and be experiencing an extended, compounded period of grief as a result.

Of additional consideration, clients may be more prone to anxiety if they are grappling with a specific stressful event, interpersonal problems with family or other member of their emotional support network, or if they have a family history of anxiety.

What Are Some of the Symptoms of Anxiety in Seniors?

While many seniors suffer from anxiety, many do so in silence, and the signs are not always that evident to the people around them. If a client is irritable, quieter than normal, or excessively fearful for their safety, for example, this is often unfortunately brushed off as the anticipated behaviours of someone “just getting old.” In order to be of assistance to clients who have anxiety, graduates of PSW college will need to truly listen to their client’s concerns, and be on the lookout for some common signs of anxiety. 

The most common symptoms of the condition are the same in seniors as in other age groups, and include the avoidance of routine activities, withdrawal from social events, an excessively rapid heartbeat, and irrational fears.

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An anxious senior may feel physically ill as a result of the condition

Additionally, professionals with personal support worker training should be aware that the senior may repeatedly complain of feeling sick, without any of the accompanying symptoms of an obvious physical illness. This can be due to physical feelings of illness caused by stress and anxiety. Clients may complain of feeling nauseous, and may also exhibit physical symptoms such as sweating, shaking, or shallow and rapid breathing. Of course, these symptoms should also be investigated by another healthcare professional to rule out other potential causes.

How Can Professionals with Personal Support Worker Training Help?

One of the best things a personal support worker can do to ensure seniors suffering from anxiety get the help they need is to remain observant. Close observation can help PSWs spot any notable changes in behaviour or physical state. If any of the most common symptoms of anxiety are noted, these should be communicated immediately with the PSW’s colleagues and any members of the client’s extended health practitioner team so that the individual can be professionally assessed. 

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By remaining observant, the PSW can help clients who may have anxiety

Are you interested in making a positive difference to people’s lives as a PSW? 

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