Increased PTSD Vulnerabilities in Aging Veterans and At Times of Crisis

I love to take a moment to pass on nuggets of wisdom shared by others, especially when specific to special populations and diversity sensitivity. This morning there was a wonderful e-mail thread among Psychologists who serve mostly elderly, home-based veterans with chronic illness. The email referenced an increased observation of PTSD symptoms in patients during quarantine. Below are just a few snapshots I copy-pasted from parts of the thread I felt might be particularly thoughtful in contributing insights. Grateful for these meaningful shares and reminders in service of our Veterans. I hope they enrich discussions along with interpersonal education and consultation.

“At younger ages the Veterans may self-medicate with substances, find camaraderie with motor cycle gangs, engage in action sports, fish and camp in order to distract themselves,  and also avoid buried internalized schemas that provoke fear and anxiety.   When they become older, more sedentary, they lack the energy, and physical ability to distract with the external world, and the old buried untreated trauma erupts into consciousness.”

“I have observed this as well. We know from the literature (and our own clinical experience) that persons with greater cognitive abilities are often less susceptible to symptoms of PTSD. It takes great cognitive skill and energy to defend oneself from PTSD symptoms by engaging in a self-narrative that attempts to rationalize unspeakable traumas. My observation is that as veterans age, cognitive skills diminish, physical ailments increase, physical and cognitive energy diminishes, leaving the veteran who was once relatively well-defended against PTSD symptoms increasingly vulnerable.”

“Many…on my team have worried that Veterans in this situation are just seeking PTSD service connection because their physical ailments have gotten to the point that they need more money coming in in order to survive. They appear to think the PTSD is not “real.”  It has been helpful for me to explain to them that PTSD is a diagnosis of avoidance, it is perpetuated by avoidance of interacting with and reprocessing painful trauma memories. I always have to explain that many of our Veterans were able to craft lives that helped them to successfully avoid the triggers, reminders, and intrusive thoughts of their index traumas…

I have found that many of my colleagues who do not have direct experience or in depth training in PTSD treatment struggle with why our Veterans, who functioned just fine for 20, 30, 40+ years begin to show PTSD symptoms in late age…

When I explain that I often see a light bulb go on with the person asking me about it. They often spontaneously begin to talk about a loved one whom this maybe happened with. I wonder if other people have seen this?”

I hope you’ll find these helpful in not only better understanding and showing compassion toward your loved ones and clients who may experience changing symptoms of PTSD but also in sharing these sentiments with others.

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