Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Although many older adults experience well-being and satisfaction in their later years, there are a number of people age 65 and older who will experience mental health concerns. One such growing concern for the older population is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.

PTSD is often associated with traumatic experiences as a result of war or sexual assault, however it can also develop after a person is suffers any extremely distressing event, such as the sudden death of a loved one, serious traffic accident, being mugged, childhood abuse or neglect or any other significant shock. PTSD has impacted many people as a result of COVID-19. Not surprisingly, first responders and medical providers have reported PTSD symptoms, as have survivors of severe COVID-19, after experiencing extreme medical procedures (i.e., intubation) and isolation during their illness. Research is ongoing as to the impact on mental wellness due to the shutdown in 2020-2021, including the possibility that PTSD may be a major contributor to mental health challenges people are facing now.

Symptoms of PTSD can appear or reappear as a result of trauma long ago or symptoms may be a result of recent trauma. Although it is important to determine if event is recent or historical, symptoms should be recognized and, if diagnosed, treatment should be sought.

Warning signs that may lead to a PTSD diagnosis include:

  • A feeling of intense fear, helplessness, and/or horror
  • A newly identified inability to concentrate
  • Indecisiveness/procrastination
  • Persistent anxiety or worrying
  • Signs of depression and/or despair
  • Withdrawal from usual activities, hobbies, and contact with family and friends
  • Frequent references to death, dying, and/or suicide
  • Increased irritability and/or restlessness
  • Disruptive Sleep
  • Language that shifts from past to present tense verbs

PTSD often co-occurs with physical or other psychiatric conditions, particularly major depression, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and chronic pain. Furthermore, older adults are more likely to report physical concerns or pain rather than emotional difficulties, especially if the traumatic event happened years earlier. Therefore, PTSD is often over-looked in the aging population.

One tool for determining if an older person may be experiencing PTSD is the Primary Care PTSD Screen (PC-PTSD). This is a four-item screening tool to help identify risk of PTSD. The PC-PTSD asks the following four questions, each with a yes or no response.

In your life, have you ever had any experiences that were so frightening, horrible, or upsetting that, in the past month, you:

  • Had nightmares about it or thought about it when you did not want to?
  • Tried hard not to think about it or went out of your way to avoid situations that reminded you of it?
  • Were constantly on guard, watchful, or easily startled?
  • Felt numb or detached from others, activities, or your surroundings?

According to numerous sources, treatment is the same regardless of age, although all treatment should be customized for each person. The most common treatment is counseling, which means talking about the experience with a therapist on your own or in a group.

There are different types of counseling for PTSD according to WebMD:

  • Cognitive therapy, in which you learn to change thoughts about the trauma that are not true or that cause you stress.
  • Exposure therapy, in which you talk about the traumatic event over and over, in a safe place, until you have less fear.
  • Psychodynamic therapy focuses on helping the person examine personal values and the emotional conflicts caused by the traumatic event.
  • Family therapy may be useful because the behavior of the person with PTSD can have an affect on other family members.
  • Group therapy may be helpful by allowing the person to share thoughts, fears, and feelings with other people who have experienced traumatic events.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, in which you focus on distractions like hand movements and sounds while talking about the traumatic event.

If you or a loved one are experiencing any symptoms of PTSD, bring your concern to your primary care physician who will be able to screen further for potential PTSD or call SeniorCare at 978-281-1750 and one of our Information and Referral Care specialists will help you find assistance.