The 5 Biggest Fears Your Aging Parents Face


If the role of caretaker has flip-flopped, and now you are taking care of your parents instead of the other way around, you may be experiencing some push-back from one or both parents as your role expands. While some parents may be comforted by the knowledge that their children are there for them in the winter of life, others resist the change in authority and see it as a threat to their independence. It is a tenuous stage of life for aging adults that requires compassion, understanding, and delicacy. The greatest of these may be understanding. Your parent may be struggling to manage a whole new set of fears, yet be unwilling or unable to communicate them. Knowing the common fears of mature adults may help you as you take on more decisions on their behalf.  

Fear of Lack

Money has always been a complicated issue to discuss. A shrinking middle class, ravaged retirement funds, upside-down mortgages, and reaching retirement age unprepared and uncertain has many seniors feeling precarious in their life situations. Panicked about outliving their incomes, some fear they’ll never be able to stop working. According to the American Psychological Association, “an astonishing 15% of American adults over the age of 65 are living in poverty.” Lack is causing older adults to move out of the family home and in with family, roommates, or community situations, leaving them feeling even less in control of their lives.


Fear of Being Invisible

Retirement is supposed to be an enviable position in life, right? After a lifetime of being conditioned to wrap self-worth around achievement, a few months into retirement many seniors begin to feel unimportant, invisible, and even disposable. Their work defined them for a lifetime, and now that they are free, with no perceived purpose, they experience elevated levels of anxiety. This is compounded by other big changes that may be occurring, like loss of a spouse, the development of a serious illness, or loss of the family home. Approximately 15 to 20% of older adults have symptoms of depression, 11% of those develop anxiety disorders, and older adults commit suicide at a higher rate than the general population. People with late life depression are unlikely to seek help.


Fear of a Failing Mind

With the rise in awareness of age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as soon as your parent forgets to turn off a burner, put water in the coffeemaker, or call a grandchild by the right name, they’re inwardly worried. In fact, eight of ten older adults are terrified of Alzheimer’s and fear it more than stroke, heart disease, or diabetes. Well-known figures like Rosa Parks, Glenn Campbell, and Ronald Reagan, who were all diagnosed with the incurable disease, began to shine a light on its debilitating effects, which fueled the fear. There are programs for seniors available where professionals have extensive dementia care training that can make your parent’s life better should they be diagnosed. Understanding older adults’ fears, helping them keep their minds sharp, and urging them to share their wisdom are helpful actions you can take.


Fear of Being Alone

Throughout life people often get into or stay in relationships that are unfulfilling simply because of a fear of being alone. Naturally, as people age and they experience a loss of spouse, friends, and siblings, the fear of being alone intensifies. According to psychologist Dr. Vince Berger, the effects of prolonged loneliness can include “anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, depression, suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, and acute and chronic illnesses.” Cognitive therapy, relaxation techniques, and pet therapy are common treatments, especially with older adults. However, it is difficult to find anything more effective than companionship. If your parent has the desire and ability to live at home, a companion can relieve social isolation and be a friend to him or her.


Fear of Death

As your parents age they become increasingly cognizant of their mortality. Spouses, siblings, and friends begin to pass away, making their worry about the death a reality of life. At its core, the fear of death is a fear of the unknown, a fear of loss, and a fear of change. The more your parent knows about death through their own religious or philosophical traditions, or through the sciences, and the more open you are to conversations about these ideas, the more their fears can be diminished. A good starting point for conversations about death is Dinesh D’Souza’s book Life after Death: The Evidence. Based on theories in evolutionary biology, physics, psychology, and philosophy, it isn’t attached to any particular religion or belief system, but is an examination of this inevitable phase of the life cycle.