Clinical forms of anxiety in the elderly

Anxiety in the elderly usually manifests itself through three clinical forms: motor tension, autonomic hyperactivity, and vigilance and recording. What does all this mean and what are the associated symptoms?

In most cases, the primary anxiety disorders of old age are chronic and have persisted since youth or adulthood. The anxious state presents as “a subjective state of dysphoric expectation or apprehension”, accompanied by a varied combination of one or more symptoms, grouped into three categories.

Symptoms of anxiety in the elderly

Motor tension

  • Shivering, shaking, trembling sensation.
  • Muscle tension, aches or pains.
  • Paresthesias(tingling), restlessness(feeling of not being able to stand still).
  • Ease of exhaustion.

Autonomic hyperactivity

  • Shortness of breath or feeling of suffocation.
  • Palpitations or tachycardia.
  • Sweating or clammy hands, cold and slimy.
  • Dry mouth, vertigo, or dizziness.
  • Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting or other abdominal discomfort.
  • Hot flashes(hot flashes) or chills.
  • Blush or paleness.
  • Urgent and frequent urination.
  • Swallowing problems or a ‘lump in the throat’ feeling.
  • Headaches.
  • Sexual dysfunction.

Surveillance and registration

  • Feeling excited or impatient.
  • Startled response.
  • Exaggerated difficulty concentrating or “blank mind” due to anxiety.
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep.
  • Irritability.

In addition to the causes accepted as causing anxiety throughout life, other causes appear, such as the decrease in the capacities that the individual had years ago, the real proximity to death, changes in their social status and in relation to the new generations.


Depending on the personal capacity to recognize one’s own feelings, these conflicts may appear in the subject’s consciousness or remain at an unconscious level. In the latter case, they can manifest as somatic disorders, memory disorders or nonspecific diseases, a phenomenon known as somatizations or physical expression of mental discomfort.

These somatizations affect the recognition of anxiety among the elderly. This “somatized” anxiety, which translates into a complaint or a demand for somatic care, usually from a non-specialist doctor, is often easily overlooked.

Relationship with other diseases

On the other hand, in the elderly, forms of anxiety associated with medical illnesses abound, which should always be taken into account when diagnosing. On the other hand, it should not be forgotten that anxiety frequently accompanies almost any type  of psychiatric disorder, but especially in the elderly in the case of dementias and depressive disorders.

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