Post Traumatic Stress and the Elderly
After Hurricane Irma that displaced thousands of people and left them without power many elderly patients find it hard to “bounce back” from the stress. The sudden and overwhelming nature of natural disasters can leave many shocked, emotional and uncertain about their future. The constant warning and 24/7 news coverage of destructive weather this year can take a major toll on anyone’s mental health.
People can develop PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder” at any time after experiencing a traumatic event, but 30 days is the minimum to receive a diagnosis. After Hurricane Harvey and the catastrophic flooding, many people are suffering acute symptoms such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder and fear of the unknown. For the elderly and those who have a history of mental illness or dementia they are at a greater risk for developing PTSD.
Signs of PTSD include flashbacks and nightmares, avoidance of situations that bring them back to the trauma, heart pounding, trouble breathing. The condition can also lead to feelings of depression and anxiety as well as insomnia.
Being displaced during a storm, staying with other people (even family) needing to throw away damaged items, having to buy a refrigerator’s food, dealing with blocked streets and downed trees are stressful for healthy adults and even more so for an elderly person.
PTSD in the elderly does have an effect on their memory. One study found that older veterans who suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are almost twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related dementias as veterans without PTSD..”We can’t say from a study like this one that PTSD causes dementia,” she says. “But if it does, one theory is that stress is to blame.”
There is evidence that chronic stress may damage the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that is critical for memory and learning.
If you notice PTSD symptoms in yourself or in a love one, experts encourage you to speak to a health care professional. Talking about the stress of the storm and aftermath and practicing relaxation techniques can be helpful.