PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is one of the most devastating conditions to impact people today. While many associate this disorder with those returning from war, PTSD isn't just a serious condition for current military members and new veterans, it is a mental health challenge for many older adults today as well. Many older adults, both veteran and non-veteran can experience issues with posttraumatic stress, and the key to helping these seniors overcome this stress is to understand the issue and provide proper care to these adults.
One of the most misunderstood things about PTSD is that the symptoms of this condition can actually emerge later on in life or even re-emerge later on. This means that a senior could have overcome their PTSD following a traumatic event, or never experienced PTSD and eventually start showing symptoms of distress. Another unknown factor about many psychiatric issues is that age-related factors can actually interact with psychiatric symptoms. This is why it is so important for all seniors, their caregivers and their loved ones to understand PTSD, what it means and what implications come with this condition.
While PTSD can occur in individuals who have had particularly traumatic experiences impact their lives, such as going to war, there are a bevy of different personal experiences that can lead to PTSD in seniors. A serious illness or injury, threat of harm such as a potential mugging, a death in the family and even witnessing a traumatic event can all trigger PTSD.
Why is PTSD in Seniors So Serious?
When traumatic events happen in a person's life, different individuals will likely react in different ways. While many people will experience anxiety, shock, sadness, anger and fear directly after they experience a traumatic incident, typically these symptoms will disappear shortly after the incident. With PTSD, the residual effects last much longer and can impact a person for months, years or even decades. There are many seniors today who have been dealing with PTSD, especially PTSD following war, for decades.
For many years, this condition was relatively unknown in the public eye. This led to many undiagnosed cases of PTSD and many seniors today have been living with this undiagnosed condition for multiple years. Sometimes, seniors can experience short bouts of PTSD that are relatively unnoticeable, while others may find the condition to be so severe that they cannot function properly day to day. The PTSD, especially worsening or growing PTSD, can impact a senior's interpersonal relationships, their ability to live independently on their own and their ability to handle everyday tasks.
This condition can also render many seniors unable to care for themselves, meaning they may require some time of in-home care, or need to live at a nursing home or a retirement facility.
The Symptoms of PTSD
The symptoms of PTSD don't always start appearing right away, it can take months for the symptoms to appear. Typically, the individual who has gone through the traumatic event must first overcome issues with shock before the PTSD sets in. There are a number of different symptoms that can indicate an individual has a problem with this posttraumatic disorder. These include:
- Re-experiencing the traumatic event in a nightmare
- Having flashbacks to the event
- Developing new phobias or anxieties related to the traumatic event
- Avoiding circumstances related to the trauma
- Increase anxiety
- Avoiding previously enjoyed activities
- Claiming to feel emotionally numb
- Experiencing a sense of hopelessness
- Becoming disengaged and drifting off
- Experiencing memory-related issues or having issues concentrating
- Struggling to maintain close relationships
- Exhibiting bouts of anger
- Being anxious or irritable
- Having hallucinations
- Being easily frightened
- Becoming socially isolated
- Feelings of loneliness
- Having difficulty sleeping
Some individuals experience some or many of these symptoms in a continual pattern, while others may experience them in intermittent phases. Either way it can cause a great deal of stress and often leads to depression and substance abuse when left untreated.
Many times, these symptoms are abrupt and noticeable a few weeks or months following the traumatic event. In other situations, they may develop and worsen over time. Either way, when a senior is exhibiting one or more of these symptoms, or if they have struggled with PTSD in the past and start to show some of these symptoms unexpectedly, it is important that they get help right away.
Unfortunately, since so many seniors today are diagnosed with dementia at this phase in their lives, the signs and signals of dementia or Alzheimer's can often be confused with PTSD. This is why it is so important for family members, loved ones and caregivers to pay close attention to what the actual symptoms are that the senior is experiencing. The more diligent loved ones are in looking at what is going on, the faster they can get their seniors the help that they need.
Treating PTSD in Seniors
Just because a senior has newly developing symptoms of PTSD or if they have been experiencing PTSD for decades, it doesn't mean it is too late to start treatment. Since there are a number of different causes of this disorder, ranging from car accidents to natural disasters, it should come as no surprise that there are a number of different types of treatments available as well.
A professional will be able to provide seniors with a range of options that can meet their needs. Typically, the most common form of treatment involves a mixture of medication and psychotherapy, although some antidepressants may interfere with a senior's current medication plan, so typically the proper course of action is completely up to the supervising physician. Counseling for PTSD may take a long time, as the effects of this condition can be deep and long-lasting. However, with routine support both in individual and in group settings, many seniors are able to recover from their PTSD and get the support that they need to finally overcome this condition.