Signs of PTSD in Older Adults And How To Address Them


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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a complex mental health issue that can affect anyone.

While the condition is rarely associated with older adults, the aging population is more vulnerable to PTSD than other age groups. It often goes unnoticed for years because its symptoms are similar to other age-related issues.

Let’s dive deeper into PTSD in older adults and some management strategies to help seniors overcome intense fear and shame.


Understanding PTSD In Older Adults & Explore Tips To Address and Manage The Condition

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental and behavioral condition that a person suffers from after experiencing or witnessing a shocking event, such as the unexpected passing of loved ones, natural disaster, sexual assault, war, etc. The disorder was officially brought to light in the 1980s.

The long-lasting PTSD triggers cascading episodes of anxiety, flashbacks, recurring nightmares, intense fear, and hopelessness. While it is common to be fearful or afraid after undergoing something traumatic, the inflicting effects of PTSD never cease.

Uneasy feelings and anxiety can grow over time and become so unsettling to the point the affected person can’t maintain an ongoing sense of what is going on around them. Overall, when a person develops PTSD, their life is turned upside down. The condition can give rise to a series of problems with handling daily tasks, working, and maintaining relationships with others.


The Causes of PTSD


What can cause PTSD? There is no definite cause of PTSD because it depends on each individual’s exposure and living environment. Many believe that PTSD is manifested following prolonged exposure to repetitive horrifying events, but it can also develop after a single brief accident. Moreover, the definition of trauma can vary from person to person. Some possible causes of PTSD are as follows:

  • Being involved in a car crash
  • Experiencing any type of violence
  • Witnessing the passing of someone you love and care about
  • Witnessing a crime where others are hurt or murdered
  • Surviving a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, flooding, earthquake, tornado, tsunami, etc
  • Constant exposure to distressing things due to working in high-risk environments (military services, police officers, healthcare professionals, firefighters, first responders)
  • Receiving a diagnosis of a life-threatening condition
  • Being bullied, harassed, or abused
  • Being physically or sexually assaulted


A Brief Look Into PTSD in Older Adults

Anyone can develop PTSD at one point in their lives. However, the mental disorder has more momentous impacts on the aging population than others, with 12 million American adults having PTSD.

Why do seniors experience PTSD? While the causes are varied, the reasons behind PTSD in older adults can be condensed to age-related challenges arising with old age.

Retirement, medical illnesses, changes in family and social roles, social isolation, financial insecurity, financial loss caused by scams and fraud, the loss of a spouse and friends, and repetitive negligence or abuse by children and caregivers can increase seniors’ risk of developing PTSD.

A severe fall is also associated with PTSD in seniors. A study has discovered that 27 out of 100 seniors above 65 had PTSD after being admitted to the hospital due to a fall.


Signs and Symptoms of PTSD In Older Adults


Symptom vagueness is the reason that causes PTSD in older adults to go under the radar for years. It can be mistaken for cognitive impairments and other health issues. The symptoms of PTSD in older adults can be varied, not to mention when they clash with age-related health issues and medications. A number of PTSD symptoms to watch out for in seniors include:


Recurring Nightmares & Flashbacks

Pay attention when your parents complain about having nightmares many nights in a row or expressing uneasy feelings after seeing disturbing graphics or images.

Recurring nightmares and flashbacks are the common signs indicating a person is experiencing PTSD. Research found that overgeneralizing memories may cause this symptom of PTSD.

The unwanted reliving of trauma can worsen the symptoms, making seniors feel as if they are still living through the traumas at any given second. It can cause physical symptoms like panic attacks, increased heart rates, sweating, trembling, and nausea.


Avoiding Memories or Events

Avoidance is one of the strategies people use to prevent trauma from coming up.

When a person is traumatized, they try their best not to cross paths with certain people and places that are associated with the distressing events. In some cases, they refuse to discuss feelings, known as emotional avoidance. For example, natural disaster survivors avoid visiting places reminding them of the catastrophe. Assault survivors grow intense awareness and stay away from the scene of the attack.

Keep an eye on your parents if they detach themselves from family and friends, refuse to talk about certain things, or become irritated when someone brings up something mid-conversation.


Behavioral Changes

Changes in behavior are another symptom manifested by PTSD, or arousal symptoms, according to doctors. Hyperarousal can cause seniors to act recklessly or react differently than usual, followed by excessive emotions, poor concentration, angry outbursts, irrationality, and sleep problems.


Mood Swings


It is understandable to have aggressive mood changes after going through a trauma. When seniors have PTSD, they appear to be tense, and their moods can fluctuate from time to time.

Feeling easily upset or startled and having excessive feelings of living on the edge with guilt, fear, shame, or hopelessness are indicative of PTSD in older adults, not to mention frequent episodes of panicking and anxiety.

Some signs indicating seniors live on edge include trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, and extreme alertness. It could lead to a heightened tendency to withdraw from loved ones and a loss of interest in activities that they once enjoyed.


Physical Symptoms

Psychological symptoms of PTSD are associated with changes in physical health. In some cases, PTSD may worsen seniors’ existing health conditions and increase their risks of contracting disease or developing other health problems. Some physical symptoms that seniors may experience include:

  • Headaches
  • Increased heart rate
  • Back pain
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea


How To Address Symptoms of PTSD in Older Adults

Like other psychological disorders, PTSD is a complex condition that requires thorough care, attention, and medical interventions for successful treatment. While it is impossible to erase the event, there are some practical steps you can take to support and help them overcome the memories overshadowing their lives.

  • Education: Educating yourself, your seniors, and their caregivers about PTSD is the first step to addressing the condition. Vague symptoms can result in false diagnoses and late interventions, leading to poor quality of life. Understanding the condition can get all parties on the same page and work together to figure out the best actions to resolve the trauma. Moreover, identifying external and internal triggers may help you and caregivers better navigate the daily lives of seniors and reduce their chances of developing panic attacks and anxious thoughts.
  • Show Compassion: Some symptoms of PTSD in older adults can scare away children and caregivers. In such situations, remaining compassionate and empathetic is imperative. It is the best way to calm down seniors and make them feel safe and supported. Remind your parents that the trauma is not their fault and you are always here for them.
  • Consider Holistic Approaches: Eating healthy and exercising are some natural ways to conquer PTSD. Increasing nutrition intake has been a promising approach to address numerous health conditions. When a person is undergoing PTSD, their bodies and minds are under a heavy load of stress. Getting up and moving is good for mental health, so PTSD is no exception. Other holistic approaches proven effective for healing PTSD in older adults include limiting caffeine intake, quitting smoking and drinking, jotting down hidden thoughts, cutting down screen time, getting enough sleep, and socializing with others.
  • Seek Professional Help: PTSD is a tricky condition, so it is advisable to reach out to therapists if it is getting out of hand. A therapist can establish a safe and supportive environment for further healing. They are also the best resource for appropriate treatment plans and prescriptions for seniors to overcome physical and mental discomfort. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a well-known method for assisting seniors in shifting their perceptions of the traumatic event and fighting off feelings of shame and guilt.
  • Join A Support Group: Help your parents find nearby groups and encourage them to join a support group. A support group is a healing place for seniors to vent their feelings with individuals who went through similar situations. It is also an excellent way for seniors to foster new friendships and cultivate a greater sense of being understood and supported.


No More Trauma At 12 Oaks Communities

We understand that living with traumatic memories, nightmares, and flashbacks is no easy feat. All seniors deserve a deeper level of love, care, attention, and understanding that keeps them company into old age.

At 12 Oaks Communities, we prioritize mental health. Dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder can be a challenge, but our staff is always up for a challenge to ensure our residents have the best life possible. Bearing a strong belief that a positive attitude can lead to a happier and more fulfilling life, we strive to create a cozy and safe environment where all residents can feel at home and cater to a vast array of wellness programs that promote their physical and mental health.


If you have questions about PTSD in older adults and how to address them or any topics discussed here, connect with us and learn more. 

At 12 Oaks, our team of caring professionals is dedicated to keeping residents safe, engaged, and connected to their families and friends while leading fulfilling lives. 12 Oaks Senior Living Communities are an ideal place to enjoy the encore season of life.

For questions or to schedule a personalized tour, don’t hesitate to contact us. 


Searching for senior living help? At 12 Oaks Senior Living Communities, we would love to learn more about your unique needs and the opportunity we may have to help you meet them. Our blog is one of the valuable resources we provide to inform and encourage seniors to lead fulfilling and thriving lives. Contact us today to schedule a visit.

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