Severe anxiety can be debilitating, and it impacts up to 20% of people over 65.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Anxiety is a serious mental health condition that can have a significant impact on people's quality of life. In fact, severe anxiety can be debilitating, and it impacts up to 20% of people over 65.
It's often underdiagnosed and undertreated, mostly because many mistake the symptoms of anxiety in older adults as a normal part of aging. But just a few questions can be the first step in helping those in need.
One out of five people in their golden years feel like Christy Hart.
"It's hard to get older," she said.
It's even harder for the 69-year-old. She battles with anxiety and depression.
"You just dig yourself deeper and deeper," Hart said.
Geriatric psychiatrist Eric Lenze says the most common form of anxiety, called generalized anxiety disorder or GAD, often goes undiagnosed.
"The typical person with generalized anxiety disorder spends about eight hours a day worrying. So, that's like a full-time job spent worrying," he said.
It also puts seniors at higher risk for stroke, heart failure, coronary artery disease, autoimmune disease, and dementia. Lenze said a major problem is a lack of anxiety screening for those over 65.
"The U.S. Preventive Services Task Forcer recommended screening for anxiety disorders, but not in older adults," he said.
A study in JAMA Psychiatry found that only one-third of seniors with anxiety receive treatment. Lenze said seniors should be screened yearly by their primary care physician.
"Are you suffering from pain? Are you depressed?" Lenze said.
Asking a few simple questions like 'Do you have recurrent worries that are hard to control? Are you having trouble sleeping? Are you having trouble with concentration or thinking?' could be key to helping seniors. It worked for Hart.
Medication and therapy changed her life.
"I want to play with the dogs. I want to go for a walk," she said.
Experts say anxiety is common with aging, but it's not a normal part of aging if it's interfering with your life. If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be experiencing this type of anxiety, it's important to talk to a doctor or mental health professional. Early diagnosis and treatment can make a big difference.