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Anxiety & Paranoia In The Elderly: Reasons, Symptoms & Caregiving Tips

Anxiety & Paranoia in the Elderly: Reasons, Symptoms & Caregiving Tips

It’s fairly common for aging adults to show signs of irrational anxiety or paranoia, such as thinking that someone is stealing from them, or that there is someone in the house at night. This type of behavior can be alarming for family members, who may find it difficult to ease their loved one’s fears and be left wondering how to help. A good place to start is with a visit to the doctor. It’s important to know that paranoid behavior is not considered a normal part of aging, and is often caused by an underlying medical condition.

Reasons for Paranoia in Seniors

Here are some of the most common medical issues that can cause irrational anxiety or paranoid behavior:

  • Delirium
  • Medication side effects
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Dementia
  • Vascular damage following a stroke or head injury
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Brain tumor
  • Depression or mood disorders

It might be hard to get your loved one medically evaluated if they are resistant. However, it could be worth putting your foot down, as many cases of paranoia in seniors can be treated.

Symptoms of Paranoia

Although it’s likely that your loved one’s paranoid behavior is related to a medical issue, there is the possibility that there worry is legitimate. Sadly, there are people who take advantage of older adults, so if your loved one complains that some of their expensive items are missing or that someone is trying to coerce them into giving them money, it’s a good idea to investigate their claims before dismissing their concern.  Here are some of the most common examples of paranoid behavior in older adults:

  • being paranoid about their finances or thinking someone is stealing their money
  • having hallucinations such as seeing people who are not there
  • hearing strange noises
  • feeling as though someone is “out to get them”
  • thinking people are talking behind their back
  • feeling unexplained severe stress or agitation

It’s important to note that it’s common for seniors to have vision or hearing problems that can cause or worsen hallucinations and delusions. Also, experts suggest that a senior’s living environment can lead to heightened anxiety, agitation, and stress. If your loved one lives in a long-term care facility, new feelings of anxiety or paranoid behavior might indicate they are uncomfortable in their environment.

Tips for Caregivers

The increased demands of caring for a paranoid loved one can leave family members and caregivers exhausted and distressed not knowing how to best manage their behavior.  Here are some tips experts suggest that can help:

  • Be patient and sympathetic. It’s more important to comfort your loved one than try to provide rational explanations
  • Remember that most cases of paranoia are treatable so talk to you loved one’s doctor.
  • Write down your loved one’s day-to-day behaviors so you can look for patterns and relay information to the doctor.
  • Get advice and hands-on assistance from a geriatric care manager.
  • Research organizations that support older adults and family for resources that can help such as your local Area Agency on Aging or the Family Caregiver Alliance.
  • Join an online caregiving forum to get advice and connect with other people who have gone through similar challenges with their loved one.

Don’t let slight changes in behavior go unnoticed because over time they can lead to a larger problem. Seek help from medical professionals and support from family, other caregivers, and community resources. Caring for an aging loved one can be physically and emotionally draining, so remember to take time to care for yourself as well to avoid burnout.

Hiring help from a home care agency can allow you to take a break, and give you peace of mind knowing that your loved one is being well cared for. If you need help caring for your loved one, contact Family Matters In-Home Care for a free consultation.  We can help evaluate your loved one’s needs and are able to provide assistance from a few hours a day to full-time, 24/7 care.

Carol Pardue-Spears

Carol has worked in the healthcare field for more than forty years. As a Certified Nursing Assistant, she worked for El Camino Hospital in the cardiac unit, Los Gatos Community Hospital, The Women’s Cancer Center in Los Gatos and several home health and hospice agencies. Carol founded Family Matters in 2002 to fill a deficit she witnessed in high-quality, in-home services and care.

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