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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that occurs in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as war or combat, natural disasters, a bad accident, a terrorist act, or rape, or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence, or serious injury. PTSD has been called different names before, including World War I’s “shell shock” and “combat or battle fatigue” after World War II, but it doesn’t just happen to veterans.
PTSD can occur in anyone of any ethnicity, nationality, gender, or culture and at any age. The disorder affects approximately 3.5 percent of American adults. Nearly ten percent of people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime. Women are two times as likely as men to experience PTSD. U.S. Latinos, African-Americans, and Native Americans have disproportionately higher rates of PTSD than non-Latino whites.
PTSD Signs and Symptoms
- People living with PTSD often suffer intrusive thoughts such as recurring, involuntary memories, bad dreams, or flashbacks to the traumatic event. Flashbacks can be so intense that sufferers believe they are re-living or seeing the event before their eyes.
- People living with PTSD will avoid reminders of the traumatic event. The avoidance may include people, places, activities, things, and situations that trigger disturbing memories. Victims try to avoid remembering, thinking, or talking about what happened and how it makes them feel.
- Victims often experience an inability to remember details of the traumatic event and will have negative thoughts and feelings, causing distorted beliefs about themselves or others. They often have inaccurate beliefs about the cause or consequences of the event, blaming themselves or others. Other emotional reactions include ongoing fear, anger, guilt, or shame. They often show much less interest in activities they previously enjoyed, feeling estranged from others. Many are entirely unable to experience positive emotions.
- Victims may demonstrate inappropriate arousal symptoms, such as being irritable with angry outbursts; behaving recklessly or self-destructively. People living with PTSD are often hyper-alert to their surroundings in a suspicious way, are easily startled, or have problems concentrating or sleeping.
PTSD Among the Senior Population
Traumatic events are far too common. Most American adults experience a severe traumatic event at least once, and seniors have an even higher level of exposure. Worse, as many as one in five of those exposed will develop PTSD in response to the event. This leaves millions of Americans coping with a serious mental health condition that requires professional intervention. Those suffering from senior stress may begin to exhibit PTSD symptoms.
If the senior you live with or care for suffers from PTSD, you may struggle to cope with the symptoms of this debilitating condition. Fortunately, recognizing the common causes, symptoms, signs, and treatments for PTSD can help provide invaluable support to your loved one.
What Is Senior Stress?
For seniors, stress can be especially overwhelming. This tension has many contributing factors, such as the loss of aging spouses or friends. Living alone can bring on a sense of isolation. Sometimes, even everyday tasks can cause stress when they become more difficult with age or disability. This senior stress‘s effects can worsen existing health conditions, causing even more stress.
Stress presents in various ways. Some of the more common ways to recognize senior stress include:
- Changes in eating habits, such as over-eating or loss of appetite
- Memory issues and lack of concentration; poor judgment, such as over-spending on a fixed income
- Physical signs like new aches and pains or increased illness.
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Isolating themselves from others, refusing to socialize or participate in activities they once enjoyed
PTSD and Senior Stress
PTSD and senior stress can interact to make the overall difficulty even worse. The challenges of aging and declining physical condition, added to the stressors of PTSD, cause a significantly enhanced stress level among the senior victims. Unfortunately, these combined stresses are associated with higher levels of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, coronary artery disease, hyperlipidemia, osteoarthritis, and diabetes. Thus, PTSD, senior stress, and physical ailments can create severe distress for senior sufferers.
What Can You Do to Help?
As a caregiver or family member, you are not in the position to treat the senior for whom you care. However, you can take steps to help the senior cope and make the treatment they receive more effective. Some of these include:
When suffering from PTSD, seniors may suddenly feel like they’re in terrible danger and start acting erratically. It’s important to remain compassionate, understanding, and empathetic during these episodes. You might find it helpful to research what goes on in the mind of someone with PTSD. This can help you be empathetic and understand that they can’t simply “snap out of it.”
There are some special considerations for seniors with PTSD. For example, your senior might also have Alzheimer’s or dementia, which can increase confusion. In other cases, medication can worsen emotional outbursts. It’s essential to keep these contributing and combining issues in mind.
If your senior is undergoing or wants to attend therapy, embrace the concept. Cognitive behavior therapy and exposure therapy have been helpful and can be encouraged.
Participate in Support Groups
If your senior is able, support groups can also be a powerful way to support the healing process. Isolation can be a symptom of all forms of stress and makes them worse. Various sorts of support groups for veterans and survivors of other traumas are available.
Your Understanding Is Essential
Understanding your senior loved one’s suffering and helping them to cope can go a long way to reducing their pain. Take the time to comprehend the nature of PTSD and bring to it the compassion and empathy that made you a caregiver in the first place. Your knowledge and care will be very much appreciated, even if only subconsciously.