Raising Awareness of Post-Traumatic Stress
Understanding the Impact on Our Older Adults
National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day is recognized every June 27. This annual event gives us an important reminder to highlight the realities of trauma for our older adults. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “older adults who experienced trauma later in life report more avoidance, sleep problems, and hyperarousal than younger adults.” Keep in mind that PTSD is not always the result of trauma that occurred long ago; it can also be due to trauma that occurred in old age.
Whether you work with older adults or you know that your aging loved one has experienced trauma, it is critical to understand the most common signs that a senior is struggling with PTSD:
- Flashbacks or nightmares
- Feelings of being on edge: panic, hypervigilance, easily startled
- Avoiding feelings or certain memories: refusing to discuss the past
The National Institutes of Health reports that 50 to 90 percent of older adults in the United States have been exposed to one potentially traumatic event, at the least. It can affect much more than their mental health—it can also impact their physical health by causing higher rates of conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
If you are worried that a senior in your life is experiencing PTSD, there are steps you can take:
- Practice empathy. It is impossible for an individual experiencing PTSD to just change their mindset or “snap out of it.” Remember that they will need both your support and likely professional help.
- Understand additional factors. If the senior is also suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, those conditions could potentially increase their confusion—and heighten the symptoms of PTSD.
- Promote or embrace the idea of therapy. If your loved one has never before received therapy, it may take some thoughtful consideration and support for them to follow through. Help your loved one speak to his or her primary physician and inquire about cognitive behavioral therapy.
If we can offer any support or guidance, please reach out to our team.