Managing panic attacks and anxiety in older people

Whether you are reviewing and setting your annual sales and marketing plan, or if you.

Whether you are reviewing and setting your annual sales and marketing plan, or if you.

Whether you are reviewing and setting your annual sales and marketing plan, or if you.

Managing panic attacks and anxiety in older people

Friday, August 16, 2019

Mental health issues in older people are often under-diagnosed, as older patients tend to place more emphasis on their physical problems.

It used to be thought that as we age we become less anxious, but we now know that anxiety is just as common in old age as it is in younger age groups. Indeed, it’s likely that many older people with an anxiety or panic disorder have endured the condition since they were much younger, often coping with it alone.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is described as a feeling of unease, which can range from mild (worry) to severe (fear). We all experience anxiety from time to time as a natural response to life events such as bereavement or moving house. Severe anxiety can be caused by particular conditions, such as:

  • Phobias – extreme fear of particular objects, animals, situations.
  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) – a chronic condition.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – caused by distressing events.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) – where obsessive worries are calmed by compulsive rituals.

What are panic attacks?

Around one in 10 people experience occasional panic attacks, which are usually triggered by a stressful event, rather than by on-going anxiety. Panic attacks are short-lived (5- 20 minutes), but are unpleasant and frightening experiences, involving a rush of intense psychological and physical conditions. Someone having a panic attack may experience overwhelming fear and anxiety plus symptoms, such as dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, trembling, sweating, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, and confusion.Although the symptoms are scary, panic attacks are not in themselves physically harmful.

What is panic disorder?

People with a panic disorder experience recurring feelings of anxiety, stress and panic on a regular basis, inducing panic attacks, often for no reason. It affects roughly two in 100 people in the UK and is more common in women. The frequency of panic attacks can be from once or twice a month to several times a week, leading to on-going feelings of worry in anticipation of the next attack.Panic disorder often begins in people aged 20 to 35, and is thought to be rare in older age groups, although elderly people can and do experience panic attacks, usually due to life changes such as the death of a spouse, health issues, and depression. All people with panic disorder will get panic attacks on a recurring basis. Some people have attacks once or twice a month, whilst others have them several times a week. But simply having panic attacks does not necessarily mean you have panic disorder.

Dealing with panic attacks

You might use the following tips as a useful way to help your older parent if you’re concerned about their anxiety levels:

  • Try not to let the fear of a panic attack control you.
  • Remember that panic attacks always pass.
  • Remind yourself that your fears are caused by anxiety.
  • Don’t try to distract yourself – ride out the attack.
  • Confronting your fear lets you discover that nothing bad is going to happen.
  • If you’re with someone who knows you well, they can provide reassurance.
  • Seek medical help if the panic attacks become more frequent.

How to help an older person to manage anxiety

If you’re concerned about your older relative, then the first port of call should be a chat with their GP to rule out any unknown physical cause of the anxiety. There are anti-anxiety medications which can help, but they may also suggest regular exercise, a referral for counselling, or contacting a support group (see below). Caregivers are clearly an important source of support and can help by learning about the condition, providing reassurance, and maintaining a normal routine.

Support for people dealing with panic attacks

Fortunately, there are a number of organisations and charities that provide great support for people who suffer with panic attacks. Support groups are a way for people to share common experiences and tips on how to cope. Anxiety UK is a charity with more than 40 years’ experience in supporting those living with a diverse range of anxiety problems as well as their families and carers. Members benefit from access to a wide range of resources and support services plus access to reduced cost therapy. The No Panic charity (National Organisation for Panic, Anxiety Neuroses, Information and Care) provides information and advice people with a range of anxiety issues and their carers. No More Panic is a volunteer-run website with a wide range of useful articles that provide information, support and advice for those with panic disorder, anxiety, phobias and OCD.

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