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PTSD in Elderly Veterans Years After Service

Posted by Constance Schein, RN
on November 5, 2021
aegis senior resident with USA flag

Is your dad having difficulty sleeping due to nightmares?  Does he seem distracted and uneasy since he retired?  Is he taking the death of a friend especially hard and doesn’t seem to be coping with the loss?   Is your dad a veteran?   Your dad may be experiencing symptoms of PTSD.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or commonly known as PTSD, is something we frequently see covered in the news.  Most of the time, the stories are referring to younger vets coming back from war—those who have bravely served more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq.  But less frequently discussed is the fact that older veterans can also suffer from PTSD long after they have returned home and years after combat, sometimes even decades later!  An entire older generation of veterans from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam are now showing signs of PTSD years after serving.

During midlife, these veterans have held down careers, had families, established homes and friendships in their communities.  From all accounts, they seemed to have moved past their dark days in the war and adjusted to life outside of the military. But researchers are finding that the aging process for some can trigger PTSD.  Whether it’s retirement, losing a loved one, facing their own mortality, diagnosis of a health issue, dementia, or simply having more free time to think about these memories, these stressors can unleash trauma that they have been fighting all their lives to keep a lid on.

Mental health professionals have now found a common pattern of symptoms among these aged veterans that they have named Late-Onset Stress Symptomatology or LOSS.  LOSS is similar to PSTD in that the symptoms are alike—nightmares, flashbacks, painful memories, or panic attacks.  But LOSS is different from PTSD because these symptoms are often less severe, directly related to the aging process, and linked to a later in life trigger.  But as an older veteran begins to feel the effects of their age, some can’t keep their traumatic memories bottled up anymore.

How to Fight LOSS:

  • Talk to a professional. If you are worried that your dad is showing signs of PTSD, even though he has long been retired from the military, consult with his physician if symptoms arise. They will be able to refer him to a mental health professional.
  • Find a support group. Find a local support group that is geared toward helping veterans and those with PTSD. If your dad can no longer drive, offer to drive him or arrange for transportation.
  • Involve your family and friends. Tell your dad’s network of friends and family what is going on with him and ask for their support when needed.
  • Live a healthy life. Encourage your dad to eat a balanced diet, get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, and try to keep his stress low.

If you think your loved one (no matter their age) is suffering from PTSD, get help.   Contact your local VA hospital or physician to discuss his symptoms and possible treatment options.   And for more resources, visit the website for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The staff at Aegis Living would like to thank the men and women who serve or have served to protect our country.  It is our extreme honor to care for many of these great veterans within our communities.   We wish you a happy and safe Fourth of July!

Profile image of Constance Schein, RN

Constance Schein, RN

Former Senior Vice President of Clinical and Health Services

Constance Schein is a registered nurse with more than 25 years of nursing experience in senior-focused healthcare organizations. She led Aegis Living’s major nursing and care initiatives and was responsible for managing and developing healthcare partnerships, technology, and wellness programs to improve resident care.

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