How Aging Affects PTSD Symptoms

How Aging Affects PTSD SymptomsThe 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 the following:

  • Retirement leaves more time for thinking and provides fewer distractions
  • Age-related medical problems can interact with PTSD symptoms
  • Media coverage of war and tragedy can lead to flashbacks or reliving negative memories
  • Unhealthy methods of coping, such as drug or alcohol use, may catch up with older adults or be abandoned without being replaced by healthy coping methods

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.

Isolation, PTSD and Aging

According to WebMD, PTSD symptoms can be grouped into the following three categories:

  • Avoiding
  • Increased arousal
  • 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. The article, “The 2030 Problem: Caring for Aging Baby Boomers” (2002), published in Health Services Research, states that social connections are closely related to mental health and cognition. The article reports, “persons who had no social ties were twice as likely to experience cognitive decline compared to those persons with five or six social ties,” and that 6.4 million elderly people are socially isolated to a degree that puts their health at risk while 2 million have no social network and experience even greater negative effects of isolation. Individuals with PTSD are already at risk for feelings of isolation, and aging may increase the experience of these feelings.

Identifying PTSD in Older Adults

Older adults often experience different PTSD symptoms than younger adults. They 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. This can make identifying and treating 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
  • 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.

Treating PTSD in Older Adults

Older adults benefit from the same PTSD treatment options as younger adults. 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. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to help you find appropriate and effective PTSD treatment for yourself or the older adult in your life. Please call our toll-free helpline now and learn about your options for a healthy and happy life at any age.