Panic attacks in the elderly manifest themselves in a variety of symptoms: including trembling, sweating, rapid heartbeat and chest pain. Sufferers often feel as though death is imminent, although the attacks tend to be short-lived and are not dangerous. The problem is thought to be physical in origin, caused by an abnormality in a small bundle of nerve cells called the locus ceruleus, located in the brainstem.
Panic disorder often begins in people aged 20 to 35, with a few cases showing up in middle age. It is considered to be rare in the elderly in terms of a formal diagnosis of panic disorder, but panic attacks are not altogether uncommon in the elderly. Panic attacks in the elderly tend to be linked with the life changes and challenges that accompany the age group, with some of the leading causes outlined below:
Loss of a spouse
Many men and women find themselves alone for the first time in several decades, with grown children busy with their own families. Friend networks that sustained them in earlier years may be broken or too hard to maintain with the onset of health problems. Overwhelming feelings of isolation can cause panic and fear to set in.
The elderly often deal with ailments that require regular medication to control. The combination of medicines with their respective side effects can cause disruptions in metabolism and heartbeat, bringing on a panic attack. It is very important to ensure an elderly person who is taking different medicines be closely monitored by a doctor. Adjustments in dosage or even changing the brand of medicine may be helpful in preventing and easing the symptoms of panic attacks in the elderly.
Too many life changes can result in feelings of despair, hopelessness and panic, especially in those people who were very active and independent for most of their lives. For those not requiring round the clock medical care, a retirement community with similar seniors may be a good solution.
What to do to help ease Panic Attacks in the Elderly
Whether the panic attacks are brought on by medical problems, changes in lifestyle or loss of social support, the person suffering from them should seek a complete evaluation from their health care provider. This will rule out any unknown physical problems that may be at the root of the attacks and may bring some peace of mind to the sufferer. In some cases, a small dose of an anti-anxiety medication may be helpful, along with therapy to increase coping skills.
The best preventive measure against panic attacks in the elderly is to let them know they are not alone. Family members should try to be as present and inclusive as possible. Going into an active seniors community or assisted living situation can help the older adult feel less alone and may help them build new friendships and relationships, and in turn help them to feel more reassured and stable.