Panic attacks are brief, intense episodes of extreme anxiety, which often mimic heart attacks, making sufferers feel as if they are in a life-threatening situation. Panic attacks can lead to further consequences such as the development of certain phobias, socially avoidant behavior, and interpersonal problems. Hence, it’s critical to understand the causes and treatments of a panic attack in your senior years, so you and your loved ones can enjoy more healthy and fulfilling retirement lives.
Panic attacks are a common physical symptom of anxiety disorders, which older sufferers are more likely to experience compared to their younger counterparts. The several types of anxiety disorders account for 3.8% of the mental health issues that those aged 60 and above experience worldwide, making them a leading cause of mental illness among the elderly around the globe. Anxiety disorders that could cause panic attacks include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Being in a constant state of worry for little to no reason
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Experiencing distressing flashbacks to traumatic moments
- Social Anxiety Disorder: Feeling excessively overwhelmed and anxious in social situations, both public and private
- Panic Disorder: Frequent, unexpected panic attacks, being in fear of experiencing another
Causes of Panic Attacks
Individuals can also experience panic attacks because of reasons unrelated to mental illness. For example, the loss of a loved one such as a spouse is a common cause many elderly individuals face. The absence of a primary family member in an older adult’s daily life leads to them suffering a huge emotional blow. Not only does the survivor feel an overwhelming sense of grief, but it could also amplify their own fear of death, causing panic.
Failing health could also lead to increased anxiety that leads to panic in an older adult, regardless of whether it’s a physical condition or a cognitive one such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Furthermore, chronic pain is commonly experienced by older adults, which can cause obsessive thoughts and fear towards movement and pain, thus leading to panic attacks.
Thankfully, there are multiple treatment options for panic attacks too. When panic attacks and other physical symptoms of anxiety start to go out of hand and interfere with your or your loved one’s daily routine and overall wellbeing, you can consider consulting with your primary care physician about taking medication. Some commonly prescribed medications for anxiety in the elderly are beta-blockers, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines.
A non-medical form of professional treatment is therapy. There are multiple senior-friendly types of therapy available for older adults suffering from panic attacks available, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, and bereavement therapy.
Not to mention, support from family and friends is easily one of the most important parts of treatment for those suffering from panic attacks in their mature years. Interactions with an understanding, supportive network of family and friends can ward off feelings of helplessness and uncertainty that can cause panic.
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