Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly known as PTSD, is common among veterans of all ages. Most of the time, the stories are referring to younger vets coming back from war—those who have bravely served more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq. But less frequently discussed is the fact that older Veterans also suffer from PTSD long after they have returned home and years after combat, sometimes even decades later! An entire older generation of Veterans from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam are now showing signs of PTSD.
During midlife, these Veterans have held down careers, had families, established homes and friendships in their communities. From all accounts, they seemed to have moved past their dark days in the war and adjusted to life outside of the military. But researchers are finding that the aging process for some can trigger PTSD.
· Role changes and functional loss may make coping with memories of earlier trauma more challenging for the older adult. Such stressors include retirement, increased health problems, decreased sensory abilities, reduced income, loss of loved ones, decreased social support, cognitive impairment, and other stressors that may cause functional decline.
· To manage PTSD symptoms in early and mid-life, individuals may engage in avoidance-based coping strategies, such as drinking alcohol or over-committing oneself to work. Work and activities are crucial but become less available as they get older.
· At the same time, adaptation and resilience developed over a lifetime can provide a rich reservoir of coping resources upon which to draw.
You can help your loved ones with PTSD in a number of ways. The essentials of Veteran home care begin by encouraging the vets in your life to eat well, exercise, volunteer, and engage in activities that allow them to feel safe and strong. These tactics are usually effective because Veterans who feel like they’re not as strong and active as they once were often experience worse symptoms.
It’s also useful to help Veterans connect with those who have similar experiences, whether that’s meeting with another Veteran, or joining a support group for others who suffer from PTSD. These groups are excellent at teaching Veterans healthy ways of relaxing and avoiding PTSD symptoms. It may be useful to seek professional help. Over the past few decades, a number of proven treatments have been developed for PTSD. A doctor can refer you to a qualified therapist that will have experience in assisting Veterans in living with PTSD.
Additionally, Veteran’s assistance is generally best served by informing friends, family, and other caregivers about PTSD. This can help those individuals understand the significance of wartime experiences, and help them to understand the source of the Veteran’s emotional problems. Being informed about PTSD can help those people to provide better support, and to avoid accidentally triggering PTSD memories.
Much of the research on PTSD in older adults has been conducted with older Veterans. For many older Veterans, especially combat Veterans, memories of wartime experiences can be upsetting long after completion of military service. Compared to the general population, older Veterans have higher rates of both lifetime trauma exposure and PTSD due to combat and warzone-related exposures.
· Among older male Veterans, the prevalence of lifetime exposure to traumatic events is approximately 85%.
· In a study of older male combat Veterans and ex-POWs of WWII and Korea (median age = 71), the lifetime prevalence of PTSD is 53% and the prevalence of current PTSD is 29%.
If you have a family member or friend who served during a time of war, especially a senior, visit or talk with them regularly. Keep up to date on their lives and make sure they are remaining as active as their health will allow.
If you need additional information about possible resources available for war-time Veterans, contact our office today.