Anxiety In Elderly: Causes And Symptoms In Older Adults (2023)

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As we age, it’s normal to feel a little more anxious or nervous. However, when these feelings start to interfere with our daily lives, it could be an anxiety disorder. Mood swings and debilitating worry are important signs to watch out for.

As we age, our risk for developing a mental health condition increases. This is especially true if we have a family history of mental illness. Anxiety is actually one of the most common mental health conditions in older adults.

I know a little about anxiety disorders, my late husband suffered from it for decades. It’s a terrible illness. The mind races constantly, you never feel at ease or relaxed and you can experience a myriad of physical symptoms.

You can be scared of things that normally wouldn’t bother you. It’s a terrible way to live. And it’s difficult for family members to know what to do to help.

As many asone in five seniors experience mental health issuesnot associated with aging. This increased risk of depression and anxiety is why it’s so important to invest in emotional well-being, as well as physical well-being as a part of senior care.

I do believe we are at the stage in medical science where issues such as depression and anxiety are now considered more “medical issues” vs. “psychological issues”. This is good because it will then promote research into the physical causes and hopefully into more effective treatment.

Table of Contents

What Is Anxiety?

You might think that you have experienced anxiety. Maybe you felt nervous about a dinner party or about downsizing to a smaller home. That’s normal for many people.

But anxiety, real anxiety disorder, is more than just the occasional case of nerves. It’s a condition that can take over your life and make it hard for you to do the things you love. It reduces your quality of life.

Someone with severe anxiety can begin ruminating about a “possible event”. I remember an elderly patient of mine who couldn’t stop worrying that she was going to experience cognitive decline like her mother did. She spoke about it constantly and it interfered with her daily tasks and therapy.

What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

Anxiety symptoms are different for everyone, but there are some common experiences that people often describe.

Many people say that anxiety feels like a constant feeling of unease, worry, and fear. It can be hard to concentrate or relax, and you may feel like your thoughts are racing all the time.

(Video) Anxiety in Older Adults: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

You may also experience physical symptoms like a pounding heart, sweating, or tension headaches. For some people, anxiety can be paralyzing and make it difficult to even leave the house.

These feelings are more than just the occasional case of nerves. They’re constant, and they can really interfere with your life.

My late husband suffered with all of these symptoms when anxiety would rear it’s ugly head. It was difficult for me to know how to help him although medication and counseling did help somewhat.

The Difference Between Anxiety And Panic Attacks

Anxiety and panic attacks can be very similar, especially in the elderly. Both can cause a person to feel short of breath, have a racing heart, and feel like they are going to faint or die. However, there are some key differences between anxiety and panic attacks.

Anxiety is usually more of a generalized feeling of worry or unease. It can be caused by a specific event, such as a doctor’s appointment, or it can be more general, such as worrying about your health. Anxiety can also be chronic, meaning it lasts for a long time.

Panic attacks, on the other hand, are usually more sudden and intense. They can feel like a heart attack or being suffocated. And they often come with a sense of impending doom. Panic attacks can be so severe that they cause people to avoid situations where they might have another one.

If you’re experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, it’s important to talk to your doctor. There are treatments that can help.

Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

It’s not uncommon for elderly people to suffer from anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

OCD can be a debilitating condition, characterized by intrusive and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions) that are carried out in an attempt to relieve the anxiety caused by the obsessions.

Older people with OCD may obsess about cleanliness and contamination, leading them to engage in repetitive hand-washing or cleaning rituals.

They may also have persistent worries about their safety or the safety of their loved ones, and may compulsively check door locks or electrical appliances.

OCD can make everyday activities very difficult and time-consuming, and can lead to social isolation and depression.

The Most Common Cause Of Anxiety In The Elderly?

There are many possible causes of anxiety in the elderly, but one of the most common is the fear of becoming isolated or forgotten. Many older adults experience a feeling of loneliness and isolation as they age. This can lead to feelings of anxiety and insecurity.

Additionally, some older adults may start to feel anxious about their health and whether they will be able to take care of themselves. This can lead to a fear of being helpless or disabled and becoming isolated from friends and family.

Other common causes of anxiety in the elderly include changes in appearance, such as wrinkles or thinning hair, physical limitations, retirement, and death or illness of a loved one.

Most any major life change can cause anxiety in seniors.

(Video) Anxiety in Older Adulthood

How Does Anxiety Affect The Elderly?

According to, “Anxiety disordersin older adults are fairly common, affecting 10% to 20% of people.” That translates to millions of seniors living with these symptoms that can become debilitating.

It can literally prevent seniors from…

  • meeting with their friends and family
  • eating healthy
  • taking their medication
  • getting outdoors
  • sleeping well
  • working
  • taking care of their personal hygiene
  • caring for their home
  • paying their bills
  • and most other tasks of daily living

Anxiety can literally keep you in bed for days (especially when it’s coupled with depression). As I said, it’s a terrible illness.

My experience in working with older adults as an Occupational Therapist has been that the mindset of many seniors, as it relates to issues such as anxiety and depression, is that “it’s just a part of getting old” or they may be reluctant to admit they are feeling this way because they don’t want to be perceived as weak.

This is particularly true for men who have been socialized to believe that emotions are a sign of weakness. It can be difficult for them to express what they are feeling, even to their doctor.

And trying to get some seniors to counseling can seem impossible! But it’s important to remember that anxiety and depression are real medical conditions that need to be treated.

If you are an elderly adult experiencing anxiety or depression, please know that you are not alone and there is help available. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and ask for a referral to a mental health professional.

There are also many helpful self-care strategies that can lessen the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Below are some examples:

  • Exercise: Physical activity can help reduce stress and improve mood. Just be sure to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
  • Relaxation techniques: Deep breathing, meditation, and visualization can all help to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.
  • Healthy diet: Eating a healthy diet can help improve energy levels and mood. Be sure to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein in your diet.
  • Staying connected: Isolation can worsen anxiety and depression. Staying connected with family and friends can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Like depression, anxiety disorders are often unrecognized and undertreated in older adults. Anxiety canworsen an older adult’s physical health, decrease their ability to perform daily activities, and decrease feelings of well-being.

Overall, the symptoms of anxiety can greatly impact an elderly person’s life and that of their family and friends as well.

So, it’s extremely important to speak to your doctor about what you are experiencing and get the medical and psychological help that can give you back your life.

What Are The Symptoms Of Anxiety In The Elderly?

I mentioned above what anxiety can feel like for some seniors and of course every individual is different. Here’s a more comprehensive list of some of the most common symptoms of anxiety that elderly experience.

  • feeling restless, wound up, or on edge
  • easily fatigued
  • difficulty concentrating
  • feeling irritable
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • sweating
  • headaches
  • muscle tension
  • stomach upset
  • muscle aches and pains
  • dizziness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • trembling or shaking
  • racing thoughts
  • unable to make decisions
  • catastrophizing (when you can only think of the worst that can happen)
  • heart palpitations

Believe me, some of these symptoms can make you feel like you are having a heart attack or maybe a stroke! And just thinking about that can only make you feel more anxious, naturally.

Again, if you have these symptoms, please consult with your physician for a full medical checkup. If it turns out that they are the result of anxiety, then you can certainly begin to get treated for that issue.

It’s a medical condition that requires treatment so don’t put it off.

What Causes Sudden Anxiety In Elderly?

There are many different things that can cause sudden anxiety in elderly people. It could be something as simple as a change in routine or environment, or it could be something more serious like an underlying health condition.

(Video) Depression in older people

Some of the most common causes of sudden anxiety in elderly people include:

  • A change in routine: If you’re used to a certain routine and that routine is suddenly disrupted, it can cause anxiety. For example, if you’re used to walking every day and suddenly can’t because you’ve injured yourself, it can be anxiety-inducing.
  • A change in environment: If you’re suddenly placed in a new and unfamiliar environment, it can trigger anxiety. For example, if you move to a new house or city, it can be overwhelming and cause anxiety.
  • An underlying health condition: If you have an underlying health condition that’s causing anxiety, it’s important to get it treated. For example, if you have an anxiety disorder or depression, it’s important to get treatment.
  • Stressful life events: If you’re going through a stressful life event, it can trigger anxiety. For example, if you’re going through a divorce or dealing with the death of a loved one, it can be very difficult and cause anxiety .
  • Genetic factors: If you have a family history of anxiety, you may be more likely to experience anxiety yourself.

Anxiety is a normal emotion that everyone experiences at times. However, people with anxiety disorders feel anxious most of the time, and their anxiety interferes with daily activities such as work, school, and relationships.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder in the United States. There are many different types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and specific phobias.

Thetypes of anxietythat people face may also vary with age. For example,phobiasare more common in children,panic disorderis more common in middle-aged adults, and older adults are more likely to experience generalized anxiety disorder.

Women are more likely than men to experience anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders often run in families, but it is not known exactly how they are passed down from generation to generation.

Does Anxiety Get Worse With Age?

Generally speaking, anxiety is not a normal part of aging. But, if you have been an anxious person for most of your life, then anxiety can be exacerbated as you age. At least that has been my personal experience.

I call it the “more so disease“. However you are when you’re younger, you’re only moreso when you’re older. Of course, this isn’t true for every human being but it seems to be true for the majority.

So, I would say that for some elderly adults, anxiety gets worse as they age. This may be due to physical changes, life experiences, or both. Other people find that anxiety improves with age. This may be due to increased wisdom and self-awareness.

Anxiety is the most prevalent mental health disorder. People of all ages and backgrounds experience anxious thoughts, and those affected by the disorder sometimes wonder if they’ll always struggle with anxiety. No one wants to face this challenge into their senior years, so this is a very common concern.

There are many factors that can affect how anxiety changes with age. These include:

  • Physical changes: As we age, our bodies go through changes. We may not be able to do things that we could do when we were younger. This can lead to anxiety about our abilities and our health.
  • Life experiences: We may have more life experience as we age. This can lead to anxiety about things that have happened in the past or that might happen in the future.
  • Changes in the brain: The brain changes as we age. This can affect how we process information and respond to stress.

The bottom line is that you do have the opportunity to control or decrease any anxiety that you may have. It just depends on what you do to take care of it. Medical and counseling interventions can certainly help.

What Helps Elderly With Anxiety?

The best way to deal with anxiety in the elderly is to try and understand what might be causing it. It could be something as simple as a change in routine or diet, or it could be something more serious.

If you or a loved one is suffering from anxiety, there are a few things that you can do to help them or yourself.

  • It’s real: First, it is important to understand that anxiety is a real and serious medical problem. Just knowing and acknowledging this can help people to feel less alone and more understood.
  • Identify your triggers: What brings on your anxiety? Once you know what sets off your anxiety, you can begin to avoid or manage those triggers.
  • Get regular exercise: Exercise can help reduce stress and improve your mood.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Eating a healthy diet can help you feel better and reduce stress.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine: Alcohol and caffeine can make anxiety worse. If you’re struggling with anxiety, it’s best to avoid or limit these substances.
  • Get plenty of sleep: Getting enough sleep can help you feel rested and less anxious.
  • Take breaks during the day: If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a few minutes to yourself to relax and rejuvenate.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: There are many different relaxation techniques that can help ease anxious thoughts . Try deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation.
  • Talk to someone: Talking to a trusted friend or family member can help you feel better and may help reduce your anxiety.
  • See a therapist: If your anxiety is severe, you may benefit from seeing a therapist who can help you manage your symptoms.
  • See a doctor: There are medications that can help to ease the symptoms and help you to better control your anxiety.

Medication For Anxiety

Medication will not cure anxiety disorders but will keep them under control while the person receives therapy.

Medication must be prescribed by physicians, often psychiatrists or geriatric psychiatrists, who can also offer therapy or work as a team with psychologists, social workers, or counselors who provide therapy.

There’s no one way to experience anxiety. For some, it might be a response to a traumatic event. Others may feel anxious all the time, even when nothing specific is happening.

(Video) Mental Health and the Elderly 12 Key Points

And still others may only feel anxious in certain situations, like during a social interaction or when they’re under stress. No matter how anxiety manifests, it can be a difficult and debilitating condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I do to help someone who is struggling with anxiety?

If you are struggling to care for someone with anxiety, there are a number of things that you can do to help yourself. First, it is important to understand that you are not alone. Anxiety disorders are actually quite common, particularly among older adults.

There are many treatment options available and, with help, most people can manage their anxiety effectively. If you are feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, consider talking to a mental health professional. They can help you develop healthy coping strategies and manage your symptoms.

Additionally, there are many support groups available for people struggling with anxiety disorders. These groups can provide valuable social support and allow you to connect with others who understand what you are going through.

Finally, self-care is important for managing anxiety. Make sure to prioritize your physical and mental health by eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and getting enough sleep.
Taking care of yourself will help reduce your anxiety levels and make it easier to cope with stressful situations.

Where can I go for more information about anxiety or support?

If you’re struggling with anxiety, know that you’re not alone. Here are some resources that may be able to help:

*Your doctor or mental health professional
*A local mental health clinic or hospital
*A support group for people with anxiety disorders
*Online forums and communities
*Books and articles

(Video) Common Anxieties among Seniors

What are the risks of untreated anxiety in elderly people?

If anxiety is left untreated, it can have a number of negative consequences for elderly people. Anxiety can lead to physical health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. It can also worsen existing medical conditions. In addition, anxiety can make it difficult to stick to treatment plans for chronic illnesses.


What is the most common cause of anxiety in the elderly? ›

Some common risk factors for anxiety disorders in seniors include: Stressful life events (e.g., death of a loved one) Limited physical mobility. Loss of independence.

What is the best treatment for anxiety in the elderly? ›

Antidepressants are the first-line treatment in anxiety disorders [16]. The selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are more commonly used in the elderly, due to their tolerability and safety profile in this population [17].

What is the safest anxiety medication for seniors? ›

What are the first-line medications to treat anxiety in older adults? Anxiety among older adults is a common health concern, but there are medications that may help to ease the symptoms. These can include duloxetine, escitalopram, buspirone, venlafaxine, and sertraline.

What triggers anxiety in adults? ›

A big event or a buildup of smaller stressful life situations may trigger excessive anxiety — for example, a death in the family, work stress or ongoing worry about finances. Personality. People with certain personality types are more prone to anxiety disorders than others are.

Is anxiety a symptom of dementia? ›

Anxiety seems to be more common in people with dementia who still have good insight and awareness of their condition. It can be particularly common in people with vascular or frontotemporal dementia (FTD). It is less common in people with Alzheimer's disease.

Which are the two most common types of anxiety shown by older adults? ›

You may be experiencing symptoms of anxiety. The most common anxiety disorders include specific phobias and generalized anxiety disorder.

Is anxiety a form of dementia? ›

Conclusions: Anxiety is significantly associated with an increased risk of all-cause dementia. The treatment or prevention of anxiety might help to reduce dementia incidence rates, but more research is needed to clarify whether anxiety is a cause of dementia rather than a prodrome.

What is the main symptoms of anxiety? ›

Signs and Symptoms
  • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge.
  • Being easily fatigued.
  • Having difficulty concentrating.
  • Being irritable.
  • Having headaches, muscle aches, stomachaches, or unexplained pains.
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry.
  • Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep.

How can I stop aging anxiety? ›

7 Ways to Beat Your Fear of Aging
  1. Maintain a positive outlook. We all have to face losses and downsides as we get older. ...
  2. Embrace your fears. ...
  3. Create cheerful daily habits. ...
  4. Treat problems as an adventure. ...
  5. Explore elderhood. ...
  6. Be more conscious of your values. ...
  7. Cultivate your people skills.
Sep 4, 2018

What is the first drug of choice for anxiety? ›

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) SSRIs and SNRIs are often the first-line treatment for anxiety. Common SSRI brands are Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox, Paxil, and Zoloft.

Why is lorazepam preferred in elderly? ›

On the basis of their shorter half-lives and lack of (or rapid disappearance of) active metabolites produced by their mode of metabolism, oxazepam and lorazepam (and perhaps alprazolam) are the benzodiazepines of choice for elderly patients.

Can anxiety cause confusion in elderly? ›

Sometimes combined with anxiety is confusion in the elderly at night. They may not understand where they are, what is going on, or even who someone is. This can be distressing for them and their loved ones. Confusion in the evening hours is often called sundowning.

What is the number one thing that causes anxiety? ›

Difficult experiences in childhood, adolescence or adulthood are a common trigger for anxiety problems. Going through stress and trauma when you're very young is likely to have a particularly big impact. Experiences which can trigger anxiety problems include things like: physical or emotional abuse.

What is the root cause of anxiety disorder? ›

There is a multitude of sources that could be triggering your anxiety, such as environmental factors like a job or personal relationship, medical conditions, traumatic past experiences – even genetics plays a role, points out Medical News Today. Seeing a therapist is a good first step.

What stage of dementia is anxiety? ›

Anxiety often occurs early in the course of AD, especially among patients with MCI, mild dementia, or early-onset forms of the disease, and can promote progression and conversion from MCI to dementia.

What is the first noticeable symptom of dementia? ›

Common early symptoms of dementia

memory loss. difficulty concentrating. finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct change when shopping. struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word.

Is anxiety a symptom of early Alzheimer's? ›

Alzheimer's is known as a disease of lost memories. But what many of us may not understand—until faced with it in our own loved ones—is that memory loss is just the beginning. Depression, anxiety and agitation, and sleep-related problems also plague people with Alzheimer's disease.

What foods help calm nerves? ›

Carbohydrates are thought to increase the amount of serotonin in your brain, which has a calming effect. Eat foods rich in complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains — for example, oatmeal, quinoa, whole-grain breads and whole-grain cereals.

What are signs of agitation in the elderly? ›

A person with dementia may feel agitated or irritable, fidget, tap their fingers or make other repetitive movements. They may also walk up and down, move objects around or fixate on tasks such as tidying. Or they may try to leave the house. These behaviours are known as 'restlessness'.

Does anxiety cause forgetfulness? ›

Stress, anxiety or depression can cause forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating and other problems that disrupt daily activities.

What are 5 physical signs of anxiety? ›

Effects of anxiety on your body
  • a churning feeling in your stomach.
  • feeling light-headed or dizzy.
  • pins and needles.
  • feeling restless or unable to sit still.
  • headaches, backache or other aches and pains.
  • faster breathing.
  • a fast, thumping or irregular heartbeat.
  • sweating or hot flushes.

Can anxiety make you physically ill? ›

The autonomic nervous system produces your fight-or-flight response, which is designed to help you defend yourself or run away from danger. When you are under stress or anxious, this system kicks into action, and physical symptoms can appear — headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, shakiness, or stomach pain.

What happens to your body when you have anxiety? ›

When you feel anxious you might have racing thoughts but also physical symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, tense muscles, trembling, a rapid heartbeat, and pain and bloating in your abdomen. These are all the results of the stress response when the body releases cortisol as it prepares for “fight or flight.”

What is geriatric anxiety? ›

Geriatric anxiety refers to anxiety disorders among the elderly. Anxiety among the elderly is similar to that in the younger population — the person feels worry, fear or doubt. However, it occurs with higher intensity and often, along with other physical and mental illnesses.

Is anxiety a normal part of aging? ›

mood and anxiety disorders become less common as people age. But detection rates are also lower among older adults. They're less likely to seek assistance for mental health issues.”

What age is considered old? ›

According to the United States Social Security Administration, anyone age 65 or older is elderly.

Does anxiety get worse as you get older? ›

Does anxiety get worse with age? Seniors may experience more anxiety-inducing situations than younger adults, and they may not have as many resources for support. Some people may notice that their anxious thoughts get stronger or more frequent with age, but anxiety is a treatable mental health disorder.

Is anxiety part of dementia? ›

It is common for people with dementia to have anxiety. It can make symptoms of dementia worse – particularly symptoms that affect a person's attention, planning, organising and decision-making.

How does anxiety present differently in older adults? ›

Anxiety disorders are associated with lower compliance with medical treatment, which could worsen chronic medical conditions and increase the risk for nursing home admission. Anxious older adults report decreased life satisfaction, memory impairment, poorer self perception of health, and increased loneliness.

What can happen if anxiety is not treated? ›

For the majority of people with undiagnosed or untreated anxiety disorder, there are many negative consequences, for both the individual and society. These include disability, reduced ability to work leading to loss of productivity, and a high risk of suicide.

What does years of anxiety do to you? ›

Long-term anxiety and panic attacks can cause your brain to release stress hormones on a regular basis. This can increase the frequency of symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, and depression.

What are the early signs of dementia in the elderly? ›

Common early symptoms of dementia
  • memory loss.
  • difficulty concentrating.
  • finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct change when shopping.
  • struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word.
  • being confused about time and place.
  • mood changes.

What makes anxiety worse? ›

Stress. Daily stressors like traffic jams or missing your train can cause anyone anxiety. But long-term or chronic stress can lead to long-term anxiety and worsening symptoms, as well as other health problems. Stress can also lead to behaviors like skipping meals, drinking alcohol, or not getting enough sleep.

How do you calm someone with anxiety? ›

gently let them know that you think they might be having a panic attack and that you are there for them. encourage them to breathe slowly and deeply – it can help to do something structured or repetitive they can focus on, such as counting out loud, or asking them to watch while you gently raise your arm up and down.


1. Why Depression Goes Unnoticed in Older Adults
2. Treatment of Depression in Older Adults | Evidence-Based Practices
3. What are the signs of anxiety disorders in older adults? - Frankfort Regional Medical Center
(Frankfort Regional Medical Center)
4. What are the most common anxiety disorders in older adults? - Frankfort Regional Medical Center
(Frankfort Regional Medical Center)
5. Anxiety in Older Adults: Part 1 Unique Characteristics
6. How To Help Older Adults with Depression (Ep #036)
(Dr. Regina Koepp)
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