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How to Help Aging Adults with Anxiety: Strategies for Stress-Free Living 

An elderly man puts his head in his hands as he looks stressed, upset, or anxious.
• A little anxiety from time to time is normal, but anxiety becomes a problem when we experience extreme stress that affects our daily lives. 
• Aging adults are also affected by anxiety disorders, and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common type among older people. 
• It can be difficult to identify anxiety in older people as the natural aging process and other health conditions have similar symptoms. 
• A medical alert device can help relieve anxiety in older folks by ensuring there’s someone that they can easily call when they have anxious feelings or panic attacks. 

Mental health issues have gained considerable attention in recent years, but the primary focus seems to be on younger generations. Older adults are often forgotten when it comes to mental health issues. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 15% of older adults across the globe have a mental health disorder, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 20% of people in the U.S. over the age of 55 have a mental health concern. 

Despite these statistics, aging adults who are struggling with their mental health seldom get help. Various factors can make it difficult for older folks to gain access to the treatment or counseling they need to feel better and truly live their best lives during their retirement. 

We’ve put together a list of the common anxiety disorders that older people are affected by. We also explain how to identify the warning signs and what you can do to help your aging loved ones live more peacefully. 

What is Anxiety? 

Anxiety is the feeling of unease or nervousness in response to a stressor. It is one of the body’s defense mechanisms. A normal level of anxiety is a good thing as it acts as an internal alarm system to keep us safe. 

However, when our anxiety starts to overwhelm us and makes everyday tasks difficult —o r even impossible — that’s when we may have an anxiety disorder. 

In the U.S., anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million adults, making it one of the most common mental health conditions.  

What Are the Symptoms of Anxiety in Older Adults? 

Anxiety can cause a range of symptoms in older adults and not everyone experiences it in the same way. 

If you suspect your aging loved one may have increased anxiety—or one of the anxiety disorders we’ll mention below — be sure to treat them with kindness and empathy.  

This will make them feel safe enough to open up to you or a mental health professional. Common anxiety symptoms include: 

  • Becoming increasingly withdrawn and refusing to participate in activities they’d once loved 
  • Increased forgetfulness and irritability 
  • Decreased appetite and weight 
  • Breathing difficulties and nausea 
  • Sleep difficulties, headaches, and confusion 
  • Vision problems 
  • Fatigue and muscle tension or soreness 
  • Avoiding certain people and places 
  • A reluctance to leave home 
  • Irrational or obsessive thoughts 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Stomach pain or discomfort 

Why is it difficult to recognize symptoms of anxiety in aging adults? 

It can be difficult to detect anxiety in aging adults as most of the symptoms may appear to be part of the natural aging process, which includes symptoms like decreased cognitive ability, muscle weakness, and forgetfulness. 

It’s important to look at the whole picture when it comes to anxiety in seniors.  

For example, if your loved one needs someone to drive them around or they have dementia and can’t be left on their own, then staying indoors often — which is a classic symptom of social anxiety — may be a practical decision rather than a sign of an anxiety disorder. 

What Are the Most Common Anxiety Disorders in Seniors? 

If an aging loved one displays anxiety symptoms that do not fade over time — like after they’ve grieved the death of a loved one — they may have one of the following disorders: 

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) 

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) feel worried all the time about regular things like health, money, family, and work, even if there’s no specific reason to.  

An older woman has her head in her hands as she looks anxious or sad.

Physical symptoms such as muscle tension, fatigue, and sleep disturbances are common in people with GAD. 

GAD is the most common anxiety disorder among older adults. 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) 

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder experience unwanted thoughts or obsessions and then perform repeated actions or rituals to get rid of these obsessive thoughts.  

A good example of this is someone who obsesses over germs or viruses and repeatedly washes their hands. 

Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) 

Those who have a social anxiety disorder — which is sometimes known as social phobia — experience excessive worry when it comes to social interactions. This debilitating worry often makes people reluctant to leave the house.  

Social anxiety can be particularly damaging to older adults as it sometimes prevents them from eating in front of others — which can be tricky if they need assistance at mealtimes. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) happens when someone has a hard time moving on after seeing or experiencing a terrifying event. They may have bad dreams or experience flashbacks, feel very anxious, or avoid things that remind them of that event. 

Seniors who are veterans are more likely to struggle with PTSD than other aging adults, so pay special attention to loved ones who have served in the armed forces.  

The symptoms of PTSD may become more noticeable in a retired adult who no longer has a fixed routine or career to distract them from troubling thoughts. 

Our article on helping veterans with PTSD may be a useful read if you have a loved one living with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Panic disorder (PD) 

People with panic disorder experience sudden, overwhelming moments of intense fear called panic attacks. These can cause symptoms like a racing heart, sweating, and breathing difficulties.  

An older woman has a panic attack as the room swirls around her.

Those with PD might also be scared of having more panic attacks, so they avoid certain people, circumstances, or places that trigger panic attacks. 

What Can I Do to Help an Older Adult with Anxiety? 

The good news is that older adults tend to respond better to psychological therapy than younger people, and this claim is backed by research.  

There are several great workshops and support groups an adult who is struggling with anxiety can attend, like these ‘stealth mental health’ workshops.  

Because many older people still attach a stigma to mental health issues, it may be difficult to get your loved one to warm up to the idea.  

Fortunately, some support groups are not labeled with the words ‘mental health’, and this could make an older person more willing to attend. 

Check out our article on how to help improve mental health in aging adults. 

Here are some steps you can take to help an aging loved one who is struggling: 

Combine socializing and exercising  

Aging adults should keep fit and strong by eating properly and getting enough exercise. Because you may encounter some pushback if you suggest social activities to an adult with anxiety, try combining these activities with exercise. 

A walking club or hiking club that meets weekly is a good start. 

They may warm to the idea of socializing if it’s centered around physical activity — they’ll likely be too busy watching their step to feel worried or embarrassed! 

Older men smile and laugh as they play cards outside together.

That being said, as long as an activity is offering positive social interactions, that’s a great thing in itself.

Plan ahead 

Anxiety is often associated with fear of the future, so planning for the future can help decrease our fears about it. 

If, for example, your parent is determined to age in place, preparations for this should be made years in advance. Planning ahead will also help aging parents — or yourself when you hit that age — avoid feeling anxious about retirement provisions. 

Focus on financial security 

Even if your parent successfully managed their own finances for years, their judgment and cognitive abilities may be affected in old age, so they’ll need your help now.  

Assisting a parent with their budget and monitoring their spending habits will also give you peace of mind. 

Get them to counseling 

This can be difficult, especially if your loved one has preconceived ideas about therapy. But it’s an essential step for those suffering from anxiety disorders or those who’ve recently lost someone and may be struggling with their grief. 

If your parent is very against therapy, find one of the ‘stealth mental health’ workshops near you or offer to accompany them to a session for support.  

Keep the lines of communication open 

Anyone with anxiety could benefit greatly from having a trusted person — like a friend or family member — call or visit them regularly. Just speaking to someone about how your day went and what you did is one of the best stress management techniques. 

But as much as we’d like to be there for our loved ones all the time, family members have their own lives and distance may separate them from their aging relatives. They might reside in different states or even different countries. This is where LogicMark can help. 

Our medical alert devices can be preprogrammed so that emergency contacts are called when someone needs help—and people who are prone to having panic attacks may require help more often than other aging adults. 

The Freedom Alert Plus even has fall detection, so emergency servcies or an emergency contact (depending on how the device is programmed) are called automatically in the event of a fall. This can be a lifesaving feature for people who live on their own—especially those who have other health conditions, like anxiety. 

How Can LogicMark Help an Aging Adult with Anxiety? 

Whether your loved one has one of the anxiety disorders mentioned in this article, or they’re just struggling to adjust to their new life after retirement, LogicMark can help keep you connected to them. 

Our wide range of medical alert devices and accessories cater to every need and will make your family feel safe, even when you’re not around. Get in touch to learn more. 


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