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While anxiety and depression are common ailments throughout the Australian population, older people are more likely to be more negatively affected by these conditions, considering the higher likelihood of contributing factors such as physical illness or personal loss.

Beyond Blue estimates that between 10 and 15 per cent of older people experience depression and about 10 per cent experience anxiety and for those living in residential aged-care it may be much higher, at around 35 per cent.

And yet, as common as these conditions are, many people over 65 still won’t talk about it. Be it through stoicism common to older generations or the perceived stigmas attached to such issues, many older people view anxiety and depression, or even mild sadness, as weaknesses or character flaws rather than a genuine health condition.

Often older people will ignore symptoms of depression and anxiety and only seek professional help when it manifests into serious health problems.

According to Beyond Blue: “Symptoms of anxiety in older people are sometimes not all that obvious as they often develop gradually and, given that we all experience some anxiety at some points in time, it can be hard to know how much is too much.”

So, what are the signs you need to look out for?

Behavioural symptoms of anxiety include avoiding objects or situations which cause anxiety, having to perform certain rituals in a bid to relieve anxiety, not being assertive, avoiding eye contact, difficulty making decisions and being easily startled.

You may also feel overwhelmed, fearful (particularly when confronted by some situations or events), worried about physical symptoms (such as an undiagnosed medical problem), constant dread that something bad is going to happen, constantly tense or nervous, or uncontrollable or overwhelming panic.

Always thinking things like “I’m going crazy”, “I’m about to die”, and “People are judging me” are also indicators of depression and anxiety.

So too are having upsetting dreams or flashbacks of a traumatic event, finding it difficult to stop worrying, or having incessant unwanted or intrusive thoughts.

Physical symptoms include an increased heart rate/racing heart, vomiting, nausea or pain in the stomach, muscle tension and pain, feeling detached from your physical self or surroundings, trouble sleeping, sweating, shaking, dizziness, feeling lightheaded or faint, numbness or tingling, and hot or cold flushes.

If you have ever experienced these symptoms for more than two weeks at a time, chances are, you have mild or severe anxiety.

Signs of depression are similar in many ways. Behavioural signs include:

  • lost interest or pleasure in usual activities
  • general slowing down or restlessness
  • neglect of responsibilities and self-care
  • withdrawing from family and friends
  • decline in day-to-day ability to function, being confused, worried and agitated
  • difficulty getting motivated in the morning
  • behaving out of character
  • denial of depressive feelings as a defence mechanism

Everyone may experience some of these symptoms from time to time and if you do, it may not necessarily mean that you are depressed. Equally as important to note is that not every person who is experiencing depression will have all of these symptoms.

Older people with depression are more likely to note symptoms from the physical category compared to the others.

Also, if you are indecisive, feel that you have lost of self-esteem, make negative comments such as “I’m a failure”, “It’s my fault” or “Life is not worth living”, have excessive concerns about your financial situation, or have a perceived change of status within the family, you may wish to seek professional help.

According to Beyond Blue, feelings of depression include:

  • moodiness or irritability, which may present as angry or aggressive
  • sadness, hopelessness or emptiness
  • overwhelmed
  • feeling worthless or guilty.

And physical symptoms include:

  • sleeping more or less than usual
  • feeling tired all the time
  • slowed movement
  • memory problems
  • unexplained headaches, backache, pain or similar complaints
  • digestive upsets, nausea, changes in bowel habits
  • agitation, hand wringing, pacing
  • loss or change of appetite
  • significant weight loss (or gain).

Depression, while insidious enough, also increases the likelihood of developing dementia later on. It is estimated that depression affects one in five people with dementia.

YourLifeChoices wants to know how you feel. Are you happy? Or do you often feel sad or anxious? Why? Help us to help you with our Over-55’s mood checker.

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If you feel down, what do you do about it? Why not tell us how you tackle depression or anxiety? Or, if you have any suggestions for our members, why not leave them in the comments section below?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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