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Panic attacks in the elderly

I am not a carer as such, I help my Nan by going shopping for her a couple of times a week and taking her to appointments etc. when I can. She is 82 and unfortunately deteriorating in health - As far as I can tell from various doctors appointments etc. there is nothing physically wrong with her, aside from ailments she already had, but it seems to be down to lack of mobility and socialisation.

I went to the shops for her on Wednesday and when I got back she was having a panic attack because I'd taken longer than she had anticipated. Also she had pressed a button on the remote that had turned the TV to radio and she couldn't work out how to put it back. I fixed the TV and managed to calm her down by concentrating on her breathing but I found that afterwards she prolonged the attack. I think this may have been because of the attention she received as a result.

It sounds fairly horrible to say that about a person, particularly a loved relative, but my Nan can be quite emotionally manipulative (even when I was young and she was in good health).

I could tell that she was no longer having a real panic attack but, possibly for the first time, I chose not to let my emotions change my reaction to the situation (usually I would start to get cross). Instead I decided that I wouldn't pander but would be pragmatic. I found that she couldn't continue to pretend anymore because it wasn't having the desired effect so she just stopped. Upon reflection it made me feel quite sad that she does these things, although I'm not sure I understand her motive. I feel I would react much better to her saying 'can you stay with me a little longer, I feel a bit lonely' - or something of a similar nature. I would appreciate the honesty of that approach. I try to speak to her about it, as this is not the first time, but she denies that she gets like that at all. I know she remembers and I'm not sure if it is embarrassment/pride that causes her to deny it but it seems like it cant be resolved.

I have no issue with the panic attack itself - they are quite a common thing that can be resolved quite quickly and I think it is understandable that an elderly lady, in a helpless situation, would get frustrated that they couldn't reach a solution themselves, when in the past they may have been able to. In isolation the feelings about these things are magnified and I get that... its the self constructed drama afterwards that I struggle with.

Does anyone else find that their relatives do this kind of thing? Do you know why? What do you do in these situations?

11 Replies

Hi yes my mother who is 93 does this though not as often as I no longer pander to it. I think that it is attention seeking at times but then again there are genuine episodes. I get her to do breathing exercises and she soon comes round. I think you are right about your nan being lonely she needs your company as well as others if possible, and alot if assurance that she is loved & cared for. Hope this helps. Best wishes Jan x

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Could you get your Nan involved in an activity group or similar? A number of charities like Age UK and others, perhaps just a local community charity, will organise regular opportunities for elderly people to get together over a cuppa. It would provide an interest and something to look forward to, which might help. If your Nan is not too mobile, there may be transport organised, to save you having to take her.


Hi rogerc1957 - do you know of any websites that advertise local community things? I live in a small village and the only thing that seems to be available is Bingo which my Nan has no interest in.


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Hi Iharris - difficult to know how to answer your inquiry. I'd look to see if any of the national charities operate in the village or your nearest larger town, e.g, Age UK, RVS etc. I would recommend taking a close look in any local newspapers, free or paid to see what groups and events are mentioned in there. They are usually a good source of charity or support groups information.

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This isn't an uncommon situation as you appreciate and this is a difficult situation for people to find themselves in.

In my experience this is often about control but at times it is almost a sub conscious thing. Often when there is little else to fill the day this type of behaviour can get a reaction.

It may also be about needing reassurance is she feels vulnerable.

Loneliness is debilitating for a lot of people and although she has you, there are most likely large parts of her day with no one.

I suggest as others have, talking to some local groups she may wish to attend.

Talk to social services to ask for advice and information what is in your area and for an assessment. She may not qualify for help but they will assess her wellbeing as part of an overall assessment and offer some advice / guidance and at times the support service on a short term basis.

Depending on her finances, you could perhaps engage a companion type service to visit a couple of times a week. They can build up a rapport and takes the pressure off a bit.

Talk to her GP or visit GP with her to discuss the panic attacks. They may get to the reason behind them and provide practical help when she experiences them.

Has she got a care alarm? If not, this may also provide some reassurance that she has someone at the end of the phone.

It may be difficult for her to ask for help, in her eyes this may mean she has to acknowledge she is vulnerable which must be very difficult

I hope this helps a little


Thanks Lynn-Osborne.

We have tried most of these methods before. I find it really difficult because we both recognise there is a problem with lack of sociability but she has no interest in attending these things by herself. She doesn't want to go and she finds excuses not to. I think it is going alone that puts her off but as I work full time I am unable to go with her.

There seem to be very limited options where we live, particularly as she is unable to get there without having to pay for a taxi which is increasingly expensive.

We have been to the GP but there doesn't seem to be a particular reason for it. Luckily she does live in wardened accommodation, so she has a lifeline, but I just feel sad that she sits alone for most of the day and feels she has to seek attention in this way.


Would she attend groups in the accommodation where she lives if someone went with her initially until she felt confident to go alone ?


Unfortunately, they don't do anything like that in the accommodation as she is still living independently as such, it is just a bungalow in a cul-de-sac.


I would suggest contacting social services to see if they are able to sign post you to things in her area. This will include transport if she is eligible. There may be a small charge potentially depending on her circumstances

Another option is to engage a companion carer to visit. They could also take her to some groups and support her until she feels confident to be there on her own.


I will look in to these along with @rogerc1957 suggestions.

Thank you.

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Let us know how you get on and good luck


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