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Does Medicare Help Treat Anxiety in Older Adults?

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Anxiety can make you feel uneasy, tense, and full of dread. Your heart can race, or you might break into a sweat. And none of that is necessarily unhealthy: Feeling anxious is a normal reaction when you face stressful or scary situations. In some cases, your body’s response gives you the energy and concentration you need to react. 

However, if your symptoms are overwhelming or interfering with your everyday life, those may be signs of an anxiety disorder. This is a common mental health challenge for people of all ages, but it often goes undiagnosed and untreated in older people. Though studies estimate that as many as 15% of people over 65 could have diagnosable anxiety conditions, experts suggest that this age group tends to dismiss the way they feel, believing there’s nothing to be done. 

In fact, there are treatments to manage anxiety in older adults and enhance their quality of life. This article will look at some of those options and how Medicare coverage can help to access them.

Understanding Anxiety Disorders 

Researchers have identified many different anxiety disorders. Some of the types that are most common for older adults include: 

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) may cause you to feel worried, restless, irritable, and out of breath. This anxiety often makes it hard to focus and to fall or stay asleep. People with GAD can sweat a lot and experience headaches or other pains. Other symptoms sometimes include a need to visit the bathroom frequently and hot flashes. 
  • Social anxiety disorder is a powerful fear of being seen, judged, or rejected by others. If you live with this condition, you’re likely to avoid situations that make you self-conscious like dating, job interviews, or public speaking. When you do end up in the spotlight, your heart rate may increase as you blush, sweat, and feel nauseous. 
  • A phobia is an intense terror of something that generally presents no immediate danger. These anxieties can be tied to heights, enclosed spaces, air travel, spiders, public places, dental procedures, the thought of terrible tragedies happening to your family, the idea of your own death, or countless other fears. When confronted with your phobia, you may feel your heart pounding and pains in your chest, become dizzy, and struggle to breathe. 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) usually starts within three months of an event that caused you physical harm or fear, but symptoms can stay with you for years or decades. While PTSD is often associated with combat experience, it comes from other traumas too. The symptoms might include flashbacks, recurring dreams or memories, changing behaviors to avoid reminders of the event, being startled easily, feeling tense or irritable, and having trouble concentrating or falling asleep.

Treatments for Anxiety 

Addressing your anxiety can lead to a happier, fuller life and have a positive effect on your physical health. Research suggests older people with anxiety symptoms are at greater risk than others for developing potentially fatal heart problems or cognitive decline. 

There’s a range of strategies to treat these disorders. By communicating openly with your healthcare providers, you’ll figure out what options are best for you. 

A mental health professional could help you understand why certain situations trigger your anxiety and guide you toward changes in your thoughts and behaviors. For example, a therapist might recommend exposure therapy, which puts you in contact with something that causes you fear or worry in a controlled, safe environment. Patients gradually feel less anxious and more in control of their own responses. 

To make anxiety symptoms more manageable, healthcare providers may also prescribe medications like: 

  • Antidepressants: In addition to clinical depression, various types of anti-depressants can be prescribed for anxiety disorders. For example, a class of drugs called SSRIs — sold under brand names like Zoloft, Prozac, Celexa, and Lexapro — work by increasing the levels of the chemical serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is important in controlling your mood as well as other functions that can be affected by anxiety like sleep and digestion. 
  • Benzodiazepines: This type of drug is a depressant that can provide short-term relief for anxiety by increasing the effects of the chemical GABA in your brain. GABA can make you feel calmer and help you go to sleep, reducing symptoms like sweating, tension, headaches, panic attacks, and restlessness. However, the risk of addiction means it’s important not to overuse these medications. 
  • Beta blockers: These drugs are mainly intended to lower blood pressure, but healthcare providers sometimes recommend them for temporary relief from anxiety. By changing the effects of adrenaline in your body, they can reduce symptoms like tremors and stop your heart from racing. 

Everyone’s treatment needs are unique, and you should talk with your healthcare providers about what therapeutic approaches are right to manage your anxiety.  

Does Medicare Cover Anxiety Drugs and Therapy? 

Either Original Medicare, the federally administered health insurance program mainly for Americans over 65, or a Medicare Advantage plan, insurance from private carriers that substitutes for Original Medicare, can provide mental health coverage.  

A good place to start is by talking about your anxiety symptoms with a primary healthcare provider and asking for recommendations. If you’re on Original Medicare, you’ll likely be interested in finding mental health professionals who will accept your coverage for payment. People on Medicare Advantage plans usually need to see providers who are included in their plan’s network to get the most out of their coverage. 

For prescription drugs, people on Original Medicare need to choose a Medicare Part D plan from a private insurance carrier. Most Medicare Advantage plans include Part D prescription drug coverage. If you know you’ll need to take a particular drug to manage your anxiety, make sure it’s on your plan’s formulary (the list of covered drugs) and find out how much a regular supply will cost. 

An anxiety disorder is a challenge with the potential to affect every aspect of your life. By working closely with healthcare providers and choosing insurance coverage that meets your needs, you’ll be in a better position to address symptoms and find peace of mind. 

About GoHealth

GoHealth is a leading health insurance marketplace and Medicare-focused digital health company. Enrolling in a health insurance plan can be confusing for customers, and the seemingly small differences between plans can lead to significant out-of-pocket costs or lack of access to critical medicines and even providers. GoHealth combines cutting-edge technology, data science, and deep industry expertise to build trusted relationships with consumers and match them with the healthcare policy and carrier that is right for them. Since its inception, GoHealth has enrolled millions of people in Medicare plans and individual and family plans. For more information, visit