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7 Ways to Reduce Anxiety in Seniors

Written by Amanda Lundberg
 about the author
12 minute readLast updated May 17, 2023

Focusing on the physical health of our aging parents can sometimes lead us to overlook their mental well-being, particularly during times of unforeseen changes in their lifestyle. Anxiety in elderly Americans is on the rise, as seniors face heightened stress and worry, according to Brian Carpenter, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University. Discover the potential causes of elderly anxiety, such as senior loneliness, and explore strategies to help your loved ones cope with stress. In this article, we’ll address symptoms of anxiety in the elderly, as well as discuss natural remedies for anxiety in elderly individuals.

Key Takeaways

  1. Anxiety in elderly populations can arise from various factors. Health concerns, loss of independence or mobility, social isolation, grief and loss, and financial worries are just a few.
  2. Symptoms of anxiety in seniors vary. Watching for changes in daily routines, social withdrawal, excessive worry, and unexplained physical symptoms can help identify anxiety in elderly individuals.
  3. Common anxiety disorders that may affect seniors have various manifestations. Recognizing these disorders can help provide appropriate support and treatment options for elderly loved ones.
  4. Treatment options for anxiety in seniors may vary. These include medications such as antidepressants, cognitive-behavioral therapy, regular exercise, relaxation techniques, and fostering social support.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural stress response and is characterized by feelings of worry, fear, or apprehension. While everyone experiences anxiety to some degree, it can become excessive or persistent, leading to an anxiety disorder. In seniors, anxiety can have unique presentations and causes.

Factors contributing to increased anxiety in elderly populations

The following factors contribute to anxiety in seniors.
  • Health concerns and chronic illnesses: As people age, they often face an increased risk of developing various health issues, such as heart disease, arthritis, or diabetes. The constant worry about these conditions and the possible complications that may arise can contribute to anxiety in seniors. Moreover, managing multiple medications and treatment plans for chronic illnesses can be overwhelming and lead to increased anxiety levels.
  • Loss of independence or mobility: Aging often comes with a decline in physical abilities, which can result in a loss of independence or mobility. This change can be particularly challenging for seniors who have been self-reliant their entire lives. The fear of becoming dependent on others and losing control over their daily activities can significantly increase anxiety in elderly individuals.
  • Social isolation or loneliness: As people age, they may experience a reduction in their social circles due to the loss of a spouse or friends and family members moving away. Additionally, health issues or mobility limitations can make it difficult for seniors to participate in social activities or engage with their community. This isolation and loneliness can lead to feelings of anxiety, as individuals feel disconnected and unsupported.
  • Grief and loss: Aging often comes with the experience of losing loved ones, such as a spouse or close friends. The grieving process can be emotionally taxing, and the void left by these losses can cause anxiety. The fear of losing more loved ones or their impending mortality can also exacerbate anxiety levels.
  • Financial worries:Financial concerns can be a significant source of anxiety in seniors. Many older adults live on fixed incomes or have limited financial resources, which can make it challenging to cover the rising costs of health care, housing, and other necessities. The constant worry about having adequate funds for their needs and the potential burden on their family can contribute to increased anxiety in elderly individuals.
As adult children concerned about our aging parents, it’s important to understand these factors contributing to anxiety and provide support and reassurance where possible.

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Symptoms of anxiety in the elderly

You must recognize the symptoms of anxiety in seniors to address their concerns effectively. Common signs and symptoms include:
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Difficulty concentrating or persistent worrying
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension
  • Avoidance of certain situations or activities [01]
If you suspect your aging parent might be experiencing anxiety, watch for these indicators:
  • Changes in their daily routine or habits
  • Social withdrawal or reluctance to participate in activities they once enjoyed
  • Excessive worry about their health or safety
  • Complaints of physical symptoms without a clear medical cause [02]

Common anxiety disorders in seniors

Several anxiety disorders may affect elderly individuals, including:
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): Characterized by excessive worry about everyday matters, such as health, finances, or family issues, GAD can significantly impact a senior’s daily functioning.
  • Panic disorder: This disorder involves recurrent panic attacks, which are sudden episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms like heart palpitations, shortness of breath, or dizziness.
  • Social anxiety disorder: Individuals with this disorder experience intense fear and avoidance of social situations, often due to concerns about being judged or embarrassed.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Seniors with OCD may experience recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and engage in repetitive behaviors (compulsions) to alleviate their anxiety.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Triggered by past traumatic events, PTSD can cause flashbacks, nightmares, and emotional distress in elderly individuals.

Supporting seniors in coping with anxiety

Here are some strategies to support your loved ones in maintaining their mental well-being during challenging times.
  • Active listening: Sometimes, the most effective way to help your aging parent is to listen attentively to their concerns. Anxiety in older adults can arise from various sources, and allowing your loved one to speak freely about their feelings can provide them with a sense of reassurance. Remember to be open to their concerns and let them know you’re there to listen.
  • Maintaining a routine: Encourage your loved one to establish a daily routine, as it can help reduce anxiety and foster a sense of stability. Scheduling activities, such as meals or quiet time, can provide structure and alleviate stress. The structure provided in a senior living community can help with this.
  • Encouraging mindfulness: Suggest that your loved one draw on coping strategies they’ve used in the past to manage difficult situations. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, therapy, or journaling, can be helpful. Alternatively, engaging in familiar activities, like listening to music from their youth or taking a relaxing bath, can promote mindfulness.
  • Promoting health and activity: Exercise has a positive impact on a senior’s mental and physical well-being. Encourage your loved one to stay active by participating in fitness classes geared toward seniors.
  • Engaging in meaningful activities: Help your loved one stay busy with activities that evoke positive memories and emotions. If they live with you, suggest spending quality time together reminiscing about happy moments instead of focusing on the present challenges. For loved ones with dementia, explore alternative activities that foster connection and enjoyment.

Activities to help seniors cope with anxiety

You can provide valuable support to your aging parents as they navigate stress and social isolation through these suggested activities that promote reminiscence of their past.
  • Cook up favorite memories. Ask your parent what their favorite foods were growing up. What did they cook for you when you were a child? See if they remember recipes or have old cookbooks.
  • Watch something black and white. If you have kids or teens, there’s a good chance they’ve only seen movies in color. Rent some of your loved one’s favorites, and talk about how movies and TV have changed. Older films are often available for free through the Turner Classic Movies channel or your local library’s online database.
  • Listen to the classics. Was your loved one a fan of jazz? How about Frank Sinatra or Elvis? There are incredible resources online to listen to music from the past. Ask if they ever went to see their favorites in concert, or about their best memories of radio shows.
  • Learn about family history. It can be fun to engage in educational, informative activities for the whole family. Set up an “interview” or just a time to chat and learn more about your aging loved one’s life growing up.

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It’s important to recognize when anxiety persists despite efforts to alleviate it. If you have observed increased anxiety with your loved one, it may be time to seek professional help from a doctor or geriatric psychologist.
If your loved one has exhibited any of the symptoms listed above consistently for several months, their anxiety might be a diagnosable and treatable condition. As a concerned adult child, consider discussing your parent’s symptoms and potential treatment options with their health care provider. Additionally, inquire about the availability of geriatric mental health specialists in your area who can provide specialized support for your loved one.
By taking these steps, you can help ensure that your aging parent receives the appropriate care and guidance needed to manage their persistent anxiety effectively.

Treatment options to alleviate anxiety in seniors

Various treatments can help alleviate anxiety in seniors, including medications, therapies, and natural remedies. Always discuss any new medications with a health care provider before starting them.
Medications and therapies:
  • Antidepressants: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are often prescribed to treat anxiety in seniors.
  • Benzodiazepines: These medications can provide short-term relief but should be used cautiously due to potential side effects and addiction risks.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to anxiety.
Natural treatments/remedies:
  • Regular exercise: Physical activity can improve mood and reduce anxiety.
  • Relaxation techniques: Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation can help seniors manage anxiety.
  • Social support: Encouraging your loved one to engage in social activities and maintain connections with friends and family can alleviate feelings of isolation and anxiety.
If you are concerned about your parent’s mental well-being, it’s important to be aware of the unique factors contributing to anxiety in seniors and to recognize the signs and symptoms. You can make a meaningful difference in your aging parents’ lives by focusing on encouragement, fostering open communication, and implementing various strategies to help them cope.
When anxiety persists, start with seeking professional help from health care providers. If your loved one would benefit from additional companionship, our Senior Care Advisors can recommend home care or assisted living providers that can help. By taking these steps, you can support your loved ones as they navigate the challenges of aging, ultimately enhancing their quality of life.


  1. Anxiety and Geriatric Mental Health Foundation. (2022, October 27). Anxiety and older adults: Overcoming worry and fear. American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). The state of mental health and aging in America.

Meet the Author
Amanda Lundberg

Amanda Lundberg, RN, has over 10 years’ experience in clinical settings, working extensively with seniors and focusing on wellness and preventative care.

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