Anxiety and Older Adults: Overcoming Sense of Despair and Distress

Anxiety In Seniors

People of all ages experience anxiety or nervousness. It is common to experience this in response to certain conditions, novel social situations, and terrifying occurrences. However, it could be a problem if one has frequent anxiety to the point where it interferes with everyday activities, social interactions, and relationships.

Since they have had anxiety symptoms for a large portion of their life and think the sensations are typical, some older individuals may choose not to seek therapy or other necessary interventions. Because of various old age problems, prescribed medications, or specific scenarios that the patient is coping with, patients and doctors may fail to diagnose this condition.

Discover the signs of this mental health issue and how to deal with anxiety and fear that keep older adults from doing what they must do daily. Keep reading to learn more. 

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a typical stress response, and in some circumstances, it can be advantageous. It can warn us about potential threats and assist with planning and attention with regard to aging. According to the National Council on Aging, anxiety disorders impact over 4% of older adults globally—and those are just the instances that have been identified and given a diagnosis.

When anxiety disorders are present, there is excessive dread or anxiety as opposed to the typical emotions of apprehension or worry.

The fight-or-flight response, triggered by a real or imagined threat, is a hormonal and chemical messenger that rushes into the brain and signals the brain to release adrenaline. This reaction may occur for certain people in challenging social circumstances, during significant events, or when making decisions.

Why Does Anxiety Get Worse With Age?

As we get older, we are more likely to be diagnosed with dementia and the anxiety that frequently accompanies the illness. Cognitive impairment (and the dread of it) also becomes more of a concern.

As per the World Health Organization, anxiety affects 3.8 percent of the older adult population. The genuine percentage, however, is probably greater. Seniors often keep their mental health issues very private, do not report their symptoms, and never receive a formal diagnosis, which makes the condition even worse. 

On the other hand, some older adults may suffer uncomfortable anxiety symptoms but may not fulfill the criteria for a professional diagnosis of a condition. This may be caused by various factors, such as aging-related changes in the brain, neurological system, emotional changes, and a higher propensity to encounter stressful situations that might cause anxiety.

Older adults may have an increase in their anxious symptoms or, later in life, experience the onset of an anxiety disorder for various causes. As part of aging, major life changes may cause anxiety because older adults feel less control over their situation. 

Prevalence of Anxiety in Later Life: Statistics

According to research, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disease, and every year, 10% of persons 65 and over develop an anxiety disorder that may be diagnosed. Around 15% of people past age 65 will have had an anxiety condition at some point.

Self-reported anxiety and depression were divided into four categories: “low,” “comorbidity,” “anxiety and subthreshold depression,” and “anxiety,” exclusively as per a study.

Among males, 8% had comorbid conditions, 26% had subthreshold conditions, and 26% had anxiety alone. Among females, 12% had comorbid conditions, 27% were below the threshold, and 29% had anxiety alone. While the manifestation of symptoms may be related to the influences of normal aging, our data demonstrate distinct gradations of symptoms linked to various social and health markers.

Types Of Anxiety Disorders

People are affected by anxiety in different ways, which can result in various problems. The types of anxiety disorders that are most prevalent include:

1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) 

GAD patients have excessive anxiety and concern about many things. They have trouble regulating anxiety and concern, accompanied by restlessness and ‘feeling revved up or on edge.’ Some folks do not have a specific concern, and no known cause exists.

2. Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder)

An anxiety condition called social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder is characterized by extreme self-consciousness and overwhelming anxiety in routine social interactions. In its most severe form, a social phobia may be so pervasive that a person experiences symptoms almost whenever they are around others. 

Examples of situations where social phobia may be restricted include fear of speaking in formal or informal settings, eating or drinking in public, and speaking in front of others. 

They are constantly anxious that whatever they say or do will make them look foolish or embarrassed. Some people need help dealing with commonplace settings like small chat or simply dining in public.

3. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) 

OCD patients have anxiety-inducing persistent thoughts and anxieties. They engage in certain repeated acts to calm their nervousness. For instance, someone afraid of germs and pollution may frequently wash their hands and the surfaces in their house.

However, engaging in these so-called “rituals” only temporarily reduces anxiety, while abstaining raises it. 

4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can arise after exposure to a terrible experience in which severe bodily injury happens or is threatened. Violent personal attacks, catastrophes caused by nature or people, accidents, and military conflict are traumatic experiences that might set off PTSD.

PTSD can develop after participating in or witnessing an extraordinarily stressful incident like an accident or an assault. The person will struggle to relax or get any sleep because of frequent flashbacks to the incident.

5. Panic Attack

Anxiety disorders like panic disorder are characterized by sporadic, acute bouts of terror followed by physical symptoms, including shortness of breath, chest pain, heart palpitations, nausea, and stomach discomfort.

Uncontrollable panic episodes, which involve a variety of physical symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath, and heavy sweating, are common signs of panic disorder. They also describe psychological symptoms (thoughts) during these periods, including feelings of approaching doom.

Causes Of Anxiety Disorders In Older Adults

As anxiety can also result in other sorts of problems, it can be much more disruptive than we think. It can impact our everyday life, resulting in despair, a lack of social interaction, and inadequate nutrition. 

Let us examine some typical reasons for older adults’ anxiety.

Stressful Life Events

Although stressful life events are never simple, becoming older might make it harder to handle them for various reasons. First, an older adult’s body is no longer physiologically capable of handling stress like it did when they were younger. 

Their heart and lungs might not function as well as they once did, and their body could find it more difficult to recover from stressful situations. Moreover, managing stress psychologically could be more difficult.

Sleep Disturbances 

In addition to extreme daytime drowsiness, older persons with insomnia also suffer from various cognitive deficits while awake that are directly related to sleep deprivation. Sleep maintenance insomnia, which makes it difficult to stay asleep, and sleep onset insomnia, which makes it difficult to fall asleep, can affect a person. 

Older adults who have insomnia have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Many physical and psychological issues, such as psychiatric disorders, suicide, and chronic illnesses, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and chronic pain, are all linked to insomnia, which increases the need for medicine.

Chronic Health Conditions 

Older adults are more susceptible to having or developing a mental health disorder if they have a chronic illness like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes.

After a heart attack, receiving a cancer diagnosis, or when attempting to control a chronic disease like pain, it is typical to feel depressed or disheartened. They can feel anxious or worried about the results of the therapy and the future, as well as new restrictions on what they can accomplish. The adjustments and continuing therapy that come with the diagnosis may make adjusting to a new reality difficult.   

Side Effects Of Medications 

Psychiatric drugs affect the substances in the brain that control emotions and mental processes. Usually, they work better when paired with psychotherapy. In certain situations, medications might lessen symptoms, making other therapy techniques more effective. For instance, a medicine may make depression symptoms like fatigue and lack of focus more manageable, enabling a patient to participate more actively in talk therapy.

However, predicting who will respond to which drug may be challenging, as different medications may affect different people. Doctors often examine clinical records to see whether sufficient data suggests one medication over another. While prescribing medicine, they also consider adverse effects and family history.

Limited Physical Mobility

Older adults may begin to shun activities and social gatherings as their mobility declines, which might increase their sense of loneliness. One’s mental health may suffer greatly as a result of this. They might also suffer isolation when their movement level declines, not simply when they become disabled. 

A person’s mental health may be impacted, and they may become at risk for depression if isolated due to a loss of mobility. Primary care professionals (PCPs) give mental health exams and referrals to experts like psychiatrists and psychologists to assist patients and their families.

Loss Of Independence

Independence loss might cause isolation. Older adults frequently experience discouragement and sadness, which can harm their mental health and reduce their quality of life. Independent older adults feel more purposeful. 

Everyone requires a goal. Lack of freedom can result in loneliness and a sense of unworthiness. By becoming independent, they may actively volunteer and give back to friends, family, and the community.

Financial Insecurity

The growing cost of housing and healthcare, poor nutrition, lack of access to transportation, dwindling funds, and job loss are all problems that older persons must face. One significant negative life occurrence, particularly for older adults over the poverty line, might turn today’s realities into tomorrow’s problems. 

Opening envelopes or attending a benefits assessment are two scenarios that might make someone feel anxious or panicky. Money worries might interfere with sleep. They might not be able to afford the necessities for their well-being.

Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety in Older Adults

Anxiety symptoms might differ from one person to another. However, generally speaking, symptoms of an anxiety condition include:

  • uncontrollable sensation of dread, fear, or anxiety
  • obsessive ideas
  • insomnia
  • nightmares
  • refusal to do basic tasks
  • ritualistic conduct 
  • unproportionate responses to the dread that triggered them
  • restlessness
  • issues with attention and memory

Physical manifestations of anxiety frequently include:

  • pounding heart or palpitations
  • trembling
  • hot flash
  • often urinating
  • breathing difficulty
  • nausea
  • stiff muscles
  • excessive perspiration
  • chilly or clammy hands
  • mouth ache
  • headaches

Treatment and Coping Strategies for Anxiety in Older Adults 

While symptoms play a key role in diagnosing anxiety in older persons, how these symptoms influence daily life is even more crucial. It is deemed an issue when anxiety affects their ability to perform daily, their quality of life, or even their health. Fortunately, there are several effective management and treatment options for anxiety:

Physical Exercise

Even though physical movement is one of the best methods to promote mental health, seniors frequently need more. The following are some of the top exercises for older adults:

  • trekking or strolling
  • seated yoga
  • swimming
  • dancing
  • weightlifting exercises

For elders, there are several internet tools, including workout videos. However, before beginning a new exercise regimen, be careful to speak with your doctor, particularly if you have any current health issues.

Social Engagement

Many older adults feel lonely, especially if their mobility is restricted and they rarely go into the community. Providing support for older adults who are socially isolated can be a great strategy to reduce anxiety and other mental health issues. 

A key source of social support is family. Frequent visits with siblings, kids, grandkids, or other family members will help older adults decompress and lift their spirits. Try video chatting with relatives or friends if they cannot see them. The local senior center or volunteer organizations also offer possibilities for social assistance in their neighborhood.

Cognitive Treatment

Cognitive therapy aims to alter thought and belief habits that contribute to and fuel worry. Cognitive restructuring, reality testing, attention training, reasonable “self-talk,” and cognitive challenges are some cognitive therapy techniques.

It entails keeping an eye on their self-talk, confronting unwarranted worries and ideas, and determining whether or not negative thoughts are true.

Dietary Modifications

A magnesium deficit can lead to anxiety, sadness, and sleeplessness. Magnesium aids in the relaxation of muscular tissue. Insufficient calcium and vitamin B consumption can also make anxiety symptoms worse. Eat whole-grain cereals, leafy green veggies, and low-fat dairy products daily.

Adrenaline, one of the primary stress hormones, is released by their adrenal glands when they consume nicotine, caffeine, or stimulant medicines (such as those that include caffeine). 

Avoiding them is advised. Salt and meals with artificial ingredients, such as preservatives, should also be avoided.


It is critical to understand that drugs should only be used as a temporary fix for anxiety problems. Psychological treatments, such as cognitive behavior therapy, are far more successful than drugs over the long term at treating anxiety problems. 

Doctors may prescribe a brief course of tranquilizers or antidepressants to help them deal with their symptoms while other treatment options are given a chance to take effect.

Natural Remedies for Anxiety

It is generally safe to combine natural treatments with more traditional medical treatments. Nevertheless, dietary changes and some natural supplements may influence how anti-anxiety drugs function, so it is imperative to speak with a doctor before implementing these measures. 

The doctor could also suggest further treatment or remedy such as:

Flavored teas

Several herbal drinks promise to aid in alleviating anxiety and ease sleep. Some individuals find brewing and drinking tea comforting, but particular teas may have a more direct effect on the brain that results in reduced anxiety.

Herbal Supplements

Several herbal supplements make the same anxiety-reduction claims that herbal teas do. Nevertheless, little scientific data supports these beliefs.

Working with a doctor familiar with herbal supplements and their possible medicine interactions is essential.


Finding a technique to communicate your worry might help you feel more in control. Journaling and other types of writing may improve people’s ability to manage their anxiety.


Stress and anxiety can be lessened by inhaling calming plant essential oils. Some smells work better for some people than others, so try experimenting with numerous possibilities.

Time Management

If they have too many responsibilities at once, some people get uneasy. They might include activities connected to your family, job, or health. Making a strategy for the subsequent essential action might lessen your tension.

Those who use efficient time management techniques might feel less anxious. Certain persons with less stress may often complete major jobs by being divided into smaller, more manageable segments.


Anxiety and uneasiness are frequent feelings. You may develop an anxiety disorder if those sensations become overwhelming and interfere with your regular life. Swings in mood and crippling concern are significant warning flags to look for.

You should see a doctor if you believe your anxiety and anxiety are out of control. Your doctor can assist with your anxiety disorder diagnosis and help you choose the best course of therapy.