PTSD in Older Individuals

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that “posttraumatic stress symptoms can emerge or re-emerge late in life,” as age-related factors affect preexisting mental health issues or lead to the development of new ones. Up to 15% of older adults may experience and struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, and reasons for this include: retirement, age-related medical problems, media coverage of war and tragedy which can lead to flashbacks and unhealthy methods of coping, such as drug or alcohol use. Age and PTSD symptoms are closely related, and learning about the interactions between the two can help individuals know when to reach out for help managing this disorder.

According to WebMD, PTSD symptoms can be grouped into the following three categories: avoiding, increased arousal, and reliving.  Avoiding symptoms include staying away from places, people and situations related to trauma and can lead to detachment, isolation and loss of interest in activities. Individuals with PTSD are already at risk for feelings of isolation, and aging may increase the experience of these feelings.

Older individuals are more likely to report sleep or memory problems and less likely to experience depression or guilt. PTSD symptoms may also be mistaken for regular signs of aging in older adults, making identification and treatment of PTSD more difficult. PTSD symptoms that may be mistaken for common signs of aging can include the following: increased blood pressure, difficulty concentrating, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep and irritability.

The VA reports that older individuals are less likely to recognize or report symptoms of PTSD, and care providers are less likely to screen for PTSD in older adults. PTSD must be recognized and diagnosed before patients can receive treatment and address symptoms. All treatment offered should be tailored to meet the unique life challenges elderly patients experience and should address any co-occurring physical or mental health concerns.

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