How Aging Affects PTSD Symptoms
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is not a condition that clears up over time. In fact, unique aspects of aging can bring on PTSD symptoms years or even decades after the trauma was experienced. Many war veterans notice symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, painful memories, or panic attacks increasing as they age. This condition, known in the mental health profession as Late-Onset Stress Symptomatology (LOSS) is a normal and treatable phenomenon.
Various PTSD and LOSS Experiences
People experience the effects of PTSD in different ways as they age:
- Some experience PTSD symptoms immediately after the trauma and continue to suffer for years
- Some experience problematic PTSD symptoms shortly after the trauma, find relief over the years, and then experience a resurgence of symptoms later in life
- Some do not experience any PTSD symptoms until they reach their older years
The intensity of LOSS symptoms ranges from mildly upsetting to completely disabling. Many factors will contribute to how strongly these symptoms are felt. Family support, previous PTSD treatment exercises and counseling, substance abuse, and other lifestyle issues can make these symptoms worse or better.
Later Life LOSS Symptom Triggers
It can be very confusing for a person to experience emotional outbursts, flashbacks, panic attacks, or other LOSS symptoms when he has not experienced them in decades, if ever. The onset of LOSS symptoms can be triggered by any of the following factors:
- When a veteran soldier retires he has more free time to spend thinking and remembering earlier life experiences
- Pain and other physical challenges that come with aging may trigger memories of previous injuries suffered
- The loss of friends and loved ones can trigger feelings of loneliness and pain that remind a person of his battlefield experiences
- Seeing news coverage of current wars can remind a retired soldier of his wartime experiences
- Many veterans self-medicate their PTSD symptoms through alcohol abuse only to have those symptoms roar back when they stop drinking later in life
- A woman who was raped or otherwise assaulted in her youth may have repressed those memories only to have them recur as she has children or grandchildren reach the age she was when she was traumatized
It is common for people to become more contemplative about the meaning of their lives as they age. This contemplation can trigger memories of traumatic events as well. This may be a normal part of the process of finding meaning in previous painful experiences, but if it leads to intense emotional distress it should be addressed.
Finding Help for LOSS
If you, or someone you love, are experiencing PTSD symptoms please call our toll-free helpline any time of day or night. While there is no currently known “cure” for PTSD, great strides have been made in recent years by mental health experts in its treatment. Individual counseling and support group meetings can be especially helpful for elderly people suffering from LOSS. If you have never experienced any PTSD treatment we can connect you with programs that can help you find the peace of mind you crave.