Anxiety in Elderly Increases When Basic Needs Aren’t Met

A study from the University of Michigan highlights the need for more services for aging adults, citing growing rates of anxiety in elderly people.

Elderly man worries on his pillow

Older adults often have growing needs as they age – from health care services to transportation for seniors who can no longer drive. But an April 2019 study points out just how serious it can be when seniors can’t get their basic needs met.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, found that senior citizens struggle with anxiety when personal needs aren’t met. This includes needs like dressing, bathing and preparing meals.

A ‘vicious cycle’ for the aging

These high levels of anxiety in elderly people can lead to negative outcomes and create a “vicious cycle” that ultimately lowers quality of life for aging adults, study co-author Xiaoling Xiang says in a press release about the research.

“Our findings reinforce the notion that needs for mental health services and community-based long-term services and supports are interconnected,” she says.

Among seniors who need assistance with daily activities, 1 in 5 experienced elderly anxiety symptoms, the study reports. The highest levels of anxiety were associated with a need for help with eating, bathing and dressing.

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Since so many seniors need assistance with these activities, the issue of anxiety is an important public health issue, the researchers noted. Plus, since the study involved self-reported data, it’s possible that the true levels of anxiety are even greater than the survey results describe.

Breaking the stigma and talking

“Adverse consequences due to unmet needs may be underreported because of feelings of shame and embarrassment, particularly in a society that values self-sufficiency,” Ashley Zuverink, lead author of the study, says in the press release.

It can be tough to talk to aging parents about their need for care – whether the assistance may be needed now or in the future – but it’s a critical conversation to have, experts say. Ideally, this discussion will happen early on and before seniors are struggling to get their needs met.

Adults in the “sandwich generation” – that is, caring for their own children and their aging parents at the same time – can face challenges juggling the many responsibilities and emotions they face. This report underscores the importance of mental health awareness in aging parents, too.

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