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Managing anxiety and panic attacks in older people

activeMAINMENTAL illness in the UK is common – 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.

And is just as common in younger age groups as it is in older age.

The UK population is ageing rapidly and the number of people aged 65 and over are growing by nearly half in the past 30 years.

As older patients tend to place more emphasis on their physical problems, mental health issues are often under-diagnosed.

There is a possibility that many older people with a mental illness have endured a condition in their younger years and have been coping with it alone.

Mental illness in older adults:

  • Depression affects around 22% of men and 28% of women aged 65 years and over, yet it is estimated that 85% of older people with depression receive no help at all from the NHS.
  • It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia worldwide was 44 million, and this was predicted to double by 2030.
  • It has been estimated that the total cost of dementia in the UK is £26.3 billion, with an average cost of £32,250 per person.


Anxiety is a normal feeling that everyone at some point in their life experiences.

However, for some people, the anxious feeling is constant and strong.

In the UK, about one in 10 people will experience an anxiety disorder and many people will have more than one form.

The disorder can disrupt a person’s everyday live and be difficult to manage without the right guidance and support.

It has been found that anxiety is more common in people with dementia than those without, affecting between 5% and 20%.

Anxiety is thought to be more common in vascular dementia, and probably also in Parkinson’s disease dementia, than in Alzheimer’s disease.

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.
  • For many older people, fear of falling can result in severe anxiety.

Managing Anxiety

There are fortunately many different options available for managing anxiety and one of the methods includes a form of cognitive behavioural therapy which focuses on the present rather than what has already happened.

It is a great way to discuss your thoughts and what triggers your anxiety.

A simple way to approach anxiety is to exercise regularly.

Premier Care in Bathing have suggested a great range of easy to moderate exercise activities that can be carried out to help maintain your health and manage your anxiety.

Other solutions include medication which can be discussed with your doctor to find the best solution for you.

Panic Attacks

Similarly, to anxiety, around one in 10 people experience occasional panic attacks.

Panic attacks are unpleasant and frightening, involving a rush of intense physiological and physical conditions.

A person having a panic attack can experience an overwhelming fear and anxiety.

Although the situation may seem stressful and scary, panic attacks are not in themselves physically harmful. Panic attacks are short lived and can last between 5 – 20 minutes.

People who experience panic disorders often feel recurring feelings of anxiety, stress and panic.

It is estimated to affect 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.

It is common in people aged 25 – 30 although elderly people can and do experience panic attacks, usually due to traumatic life changes.

Managing panic attacks

There are many ways to manage panic attacks and the methods mostly focus on changing and altering your thoughts. Some of these tips could help you:

  • Remember panic attacks are temporary and don’t last long
  • Remind yourself that fears are caused by anxiety
  • If you are around people, reassurance can help you feel more at ease
  • Seek medical help if the panic attacks become more frequent
  • Try not to let it take control and remember you are the one in control of your thoughts

Support for people dealing with panic attacks:

Anxiety UK – 08444 775 774 and is available weekdays from 9.30 am – 5.30 pm

The No Panic charity (National Organisation for Panic, Anxiety Neuroses, Information and Care) – is 0844 967 4848 and is open every day from 10 am to 10 pm

If as a carer or family member you are concerned about your older patient or parent the first port of call should be a chat with their GP.

HELPLINE for people struggling with addiction issues:

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