People face different challenges as they grow older – older adults who suffer from a phobia have to face unique challenges. The fact remains that this particular demographic was not included in studies on phobias and related disorders, until recently. New studies have shown that many symptoms were under reported. Statistics puts reported rates ranging between 2 -10%. Of all the phobias, agoraphobia seems most likely to develop in older adults for the very first time – as for the others, they are pre-existing conditions.
It can be difficult to figure out why phobias are caused in older adults. It could be that they have other health conditions which cause similar symptoms due to medications. As people get older, they could fall down and not be able to get help in time which leads to fearful behavior.
Anxiety disorders are not that likely to happen to older adults – the most likely one to occur is agoraphobia. Why? It can come on from a legitimate fear on how they are going to cope with old age and health issues. Some may fall sick more often and also break some bone or the other. Their mental faculties also start to become dull. This is an insidious process and is caught later than usual by family members.
Addressing and treating phobias in older adults is a little trickier than treating younger people. Medication is one option but it has to be used with caution as they may have physical conditions for which they may not work. They may also be on other medicines and the risk of drug interaction is pretty high.
As far as medications go, a category of chemicals called SSRIs are generally prescribed in the treatment of phobias. Some of them are known brands like Prozac, Paxil and Celexa – they work on serotonin levels in the brain and very effective in treating phobias. Therapy and medications have worked wonders in helping older people keep their independence.
The only drawback to SSRIs is that some of the patients on these medications are 1.5 times more likely to fall and fracture bones as compared to those who do not. Their bone density levels fell by about 2 – 4% in the hip and spine area. Not much data is available on who should stop taking the medications – it is always recommended that one should consult their doctor before deciding on a course of action.
Therapy is usually very effective if the adult is willing to take the help. Some issues that can impact this decision are finances and also social stigma with relation to mental disorders. They can also become resistant to help offered by their children – children would do well to not push their parents and ensure that they are able to maintain their independence during this process.
Older people with phobias should be handled with care so that they don’t get overwhelmed and feel like their independence is compromised. Family members help in different ways like mowing their lawn or even taking them to their appointments. Trying to help is an ongoing process and has to be handled diplomatically. Gently nudge them towards getting help for their problems. Don’t try and take over – just offer the help and let them choose. As a caregiver it becomes very important to maintain boundaries for both parties.