Being a Senior Living with PTSD

Seniors have the privilege of having lived for many years. Seniors have had full lives, sometimes including challenging events. Events that were extremely traumatic may have caused a person to acquire the condition known as PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Are you a senior living with PTSD?


What is PTSD?

We go through many events in our lives. Most of the time our physical, emotional and mental systems successfully process the experience. But sometimes a person who experienced a shocking, terrifying or dangerous event in their lives, cannot get over it.

In the 1980’s PTSD was recognized as a real medical condition.

The general symptoms for PTSD include:

  1. Experiencing flashbacks to an event and not being able to control the disturbing thoughts.
  2. Avoiding things that might trigger unsettling feelings.
  3. Changes in behavior such as over-arousal from stimulation, angry outbursts, and anxiety.
  4. Distressing and negative thoughts.


How does might PTSD Affect Seniors Differently?

A senior living with PTSD can have a disrupted quality of life. Why could PTSD be more disturbing for seniors than for younger adults?

The Psychiatric Times and other sources set forth a number of reasons for this.

One reason is that seniors are often blessed with the learned ability to ‘get on with life’ no matter what. This might make a person turn their back on their emotional and psychological symptoms. Instead, the trauma leaks out through an increased occurrence of ‘somatic’ complaints. Those are complaints relating to the body, i.e. aches, pains or physical issues.

That means for example, that a senior might complain of pain in her leg. But she doesn’t mention that she fell and experienced danger, and is still shocked at how it affected her.

Secondly, a senior might have complaints about ‘hyperarousal’. Examples of this are getting startled easily, and sleeping difficulties. But they might not connect it to their re-living a traumatic event.

Thirdly, if a senior suffers from cognitive impairment, it prevents them from noticing a flareup of PTSD symptoms. It also prevents them from communicating their need for help.

Fourthly, a younger adult who suffers from PTSD can distract themselves through work or other things that keep them busy. A senior naturally has more time and is less involved in ‘avoidance-coping’ strategies.

Fifthly, social support is such an important tool for helping a person get over a traumatic event. A senior might have less social support if they see friends less often, for example, due to mobility issues. That would give the trauma more ‘permission’ to take over the senior’s life.

It is a shame that senior might suffer in silence. There is so much that can be done to help.


Gifts to All Mankind that Help with Coping

The gift of forgetfulness helps us to forget painful events. Perhaps to partially balance the effects of trauma, there is another great gift to mankind, resiliency. This is the quality that helps a person to bounce back from challenge. This helps set the coping mechanism into action.

Yet, for PTSD, there is still a need for intervention. And intervention is available in so many ways, actually.


What Can We Do About PTSD?

Since PTSD is a condition that acts like psychiatric conditions, a person can expect it to get better and then worse. That is called ‘relapsing and recurring’.

That means it is hard to be a senior living with PTSD. But it also means it is always a good time to work on fixing it!

While the PTSD-beast lies dormant, a senior can restock their mental arsenal. When it awakens, the senior will be more ready for it than ever before.

Some therapies that help for PTSD:

  • CBT – Cognitive Behavior Therapy. CBT has a reputation for being especially helpful for PTSD.
  • Prolonged exposure therapy
  • Eye movement therapy
  • Narrative exposure therapy
  • Written narrative exposure
  • Various medications
  • Not exactly a therapy, but still important: Finding a compassionate, supportive friend
  • Support groups for people who had similar experiences, such as combat veterans who are seniors living with PTSD
  • Alternative therapies – Three Dimensions or other meridian therapies, mindfulness, yoga, breathing therapies
  • Group therapy


A senior living with PTSD can benefit from one therapy or a combination of therapies.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) emphasizes that it is very important to seek therapy in the right place. If a senior is struggling with PTSD, they should get help from a certified professional who has experience with treating PTSD.


Finding Ways to Stop PTSD Affecting Senior Living

The holiday season is a great time to make a resolution about dealing with PTSD. Remember, it’s never too late.

The first step is to become aware, then to get help and continue working on the project for as long as a person can.

Seniors are not routinely screened for PTSD (and nor are younger people), so the initiative for working on PTSD might have to come from the senior themselves.

A senior can learn many skills from PTSD therapies. These might become coping skills that will give a senior a better quality of life, all over.

A senior living with PTSD can get involved with senior activities, and this will be a good thing. But they should be aware that focused attention to PTSD will be more effective.



Being a senior living with PTSD


Original Photo by Fabio Ballasina on Unsplash