Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric condition that can affect people of all ages, including older adults, who have experienced or been a witness to a traumatic event or set of circumstances. It’s a complex disorder that can be physical or emotional and create a negative impact on a person’s mental health and quality of life.
PTSD can emerge or re-emerge later in life due to retirement, increased health problems, decreased sensory abilities, reduced income, loss of loved ones, decreased support, cognitive impairment, and other stressors. According to a 2016 study, In the U.S, 50 to 90 percent of older adults have been exposed to a traumatic event.
PTSD is also common in older adults who are military veterans, especially men. Combat veterans in particular can have upsetting and painful memories of wartime experiences even long after completing their military service.
What to Look For: Symptoms of PTSD in Older Adults
According to the National Center for PTSD, symptoms of PTSD in older adults can vary from person to person, but there are several common symptoms for people who have experienced trauma.
Reliving the trauma
When a person experiences trauma the memories of it may return at any time, even years later. These memories can be triggered by something that reminds a person of the event. Watching a war movie or seeing a graphic news report can all be triggering and cause flashbacks, nightmares, and panic attacks.
Avoiding triggers that remind them of the event
Seniors with PTSD may try to avoid things that remind them of the traumatic event like large groups of people or leaving the house. A senior may isolate themselves from close relationships to avoid discussing issues and past trauma.
Increase in negative thoughts and feelings
No matter a person’s personality, trauma harms a person’s mental health and wellbeing causing them to feel sad, numb, or apathetic. With seniors, this can manifest as losing interest in hobbies after retirement, depression, isolating from family, and having difficulty expressing happiness. Guilt, shame, and regret from the traumatic event may also increase negative feelings.
Feeling on edge
PTSD in seniors can also manifest as stress, jitters, and anxiety. This can cause trouble sleeping, concentrating, and unwinding or relaxing. Angry outbursts in older adults can become more common and aggressive. Feeling on edge all the time can potentially lead to drug use or drinking too much alcohol.
Treatment of PTSD in Older Adults
If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms it’s important to ask for help and find the best treatment. Reach out to healthcare providers, family, friends, and anyone else who can offer support.
Trauma-focused therapy that focuses on processing the traumatic event and using prolonged exposure to expose a person to the thoughts, feelings, and situations that have been avoided. Medication is another option for older adults with PTSD. Always talk with a doctor or psychiatrist to find out what kind of medications can help.
Caring for Elderly with PTSD
When caring for an elderly person with PTSD it’s important to be patient, understanding, and compassionate. It’s vital to create a safe and comfortable environment and to minimize triggers. Establishing a routine can also be helpful to promote security and stability.
Remember you or your loved one don’t have to go it alone. Healthcare providers, The Department of Veteran Affairs, and other support networks can offer an empathetic and nurturing approach to seniors with PTSD.
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