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How to Combat Anxiety in the Elderly

Anxiety disorders can affect people of any age, but they frequently go undiagnosed in older adults.

It’s estimated that as many as 10% to 20% of seniors suffer from anxiety, but many do not acknowledge their symptoms or choose to discuss them with a doctor.

As a result, untreated anxiety can lead to cognitive decline and poor physical health, among other illnesses.

Learn the types of anxiety in elderly adults, the symptoms, and how to support a loved one who appears to suffer from anxiety.

What types of anxiety affect the elderly?

There are several types of anxiety disorders that your loved one may be struggling with.

While occasionally feeling nervous or worried may not be a cause for concern, anxiety is an excessive amount of fear or worrying that interferes with daily life.

Anxiety can cause physical symptoms as well, including sweating, chest pains, headaches, or stomach issues.

Let’s explore the most common types of anxiety in elderly adults.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

GAD can cause constant worry that may have no specific cause.

Seniors with GAD may be concerned about health issues, family issues, money, or potential disasters.

Usually, an older adult with GAD understands that they worry excessively, but they may have experienced these symptoms for much of their life and even dismiss the feelings as normal.

However, their feelings are real and can cause serious effects on the body over time.


Phobias are intense, irrational fears of a specific place, event, or thing.

These fears can lead to avoidance of these situations or objects, and facing them can cause severe anxiety or panic attacks.

Common phobias include:

  • Social phobia or social anxiety disorder
  • Heights
  • Spiders
  • Tunnels
  • Certain animals
  • Driving
  • Flying

Avoiding these objects or situations can lead a person to significantly limit their lives.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD may occur after a person experiences a traumatic event such as a car accident, natural disaster, abuse, violence, or threat of harm.

Sometimes, older adults may re-live a trauma several years later if a current event or life change triggers similar thoughts or feelings.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD can cause persistent, unwanted thoughts or rituals that a person feels they cannot control.

Repeated actions or rituals such as counting, washing their hands, or cleaning usually are performed to try and prevent the thoughts or take back control.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorders can cause sudden feelings of terror and panic attacks in older adults. 

These attacks can happen at any time of day or night, and can make a loved one feel afraid to be alone.

It also can cause a person to feel like they are having a heart attack or stroke.

What are the symptoms of anxiety in elderly adults?

While the various types of disorders may have different symptoms, there are some common symptoms that many people with anxiety disorders experience.

These common signs of anxiety include:

  • Excessive fear or worry
  • Shakiness or trembling
  • Panicked feeling
  • Sweating
  • Trouble breathing
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Chest pain
  • Preoccupation with routine
  • Stomach or digestion issues
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Confusion or forgetfulness
  • Avoiding people, places, or situations
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Sleep issues

If you notice these symptoms in a loved one, discuss how they have been feeling and encourage a visit to the doctor to rule out other health issues.

Consider any recent life changes or medication changes that could be contributing to these symptoms.

Anxiety disorders can be successfully managed and treated if your loved one is willing to learn about their disorder and how to navigate their feelings.

What causes anxiety disorders in seniors?

Anxiety doesn’t always have a specific cause in older adults, but is more often a result of life changes, chronic illness, medication side effects, or general poor health.

Here are some of the most common anxiety disorder triggers for seniors:

  • Chronic pain or illness
  • Immobility
  • Financial stress
  • Loneliness or isolation
  • Grief
  • End-of-life planning
  • Loss of independence
  • Sleep issues
  • Medication side effects
  • Difficult, unprocessed events from early life

In older adults, anxiety and depression often occur together. 

The best way to navigate these triggers and symptoms is to seek help from a medical professional.

Your loved one’s doctor can help them determine the cause of their symptoms, whether it be an anxiety disorder, depression, a combination of both, or another health issue.

They may decide to refer your loved one to a mental health care professional for further support.

What are the treatment options for anxiety disorders?

The most common treatment options for anxiety disorders are therapy or medications.

However, there are several ways an older adult experiencing anxiety can find relief.

The best approaches to treating anxiety disorders and depression are a combination of medical and wellness techniques to find balance and improve overall health.

These types of techniques include:

  • Learning about your disorder, understanding triggers, and finding ways to cope
  • Avoiding substances that aggravate symptoms
  • Creating a support group of family, friends, or spiritual leaders
  • Practicing breathing, meditation, or prayer
  • Performing regular exercise
  • Limiting consumption of stressful news
  • Eating a diet rich in heart-healthy and brain-healthy foods
  • Getting enough rest

Sometimes, it can be difficult to provide enough social support for a loved one who is  feeling lonely and anxious.

It might be helpful to consider a senior living community that can offer a full spectrum of care in addition to plenty of life enrichment and social activities.

How The Kensington Redondo Beach supports seniors with anxiety

The Kensington Redondo Beach is an assisted living and memory care community rooted in loving care and long-lasting relationships.

If your loved one is struggling with an anxiety disorder, we can provide the type of medical, social, and wellness support they need to find joy, peace, and renewed purpose.

The Kensington Promise is to love and care for your family as we do our own. In a cozy, safe, and loving environment, our team is equipped to provide our residents with tailored treatments that will help them achieve their optimal level of independence.

This includes a full, ever-changing calendar of events to nourish the mind, body, and spirit. Reach out to our team today to tell us more about your loved one, and to hear about all the ways our community can provide the types of services and support they need. We look forward to supporting your loved one and family through this journey.

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