Senior Veterans & PTSD
By Cheryl Clark, M.D. ~
There are more than an estimated 12 million American veterans age 65 or older, who bravely served in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf War. But although these wars are over, the painful after effects of war can be experienced in veterans their entire lives and impact health and well-being in the senior years.
According to the Veterans Affairs (VA)’s National Registry for Depression, 11 percent of veterans aged 65 or older have a diagnosis of major depressive disorder. This rate is more than twice that found in the general population of adults this age.
One of the major issues facing senior veterans is coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is commonly diagnosed in vets who have recently returned from combat, but these symptoms often resurface later in life, years after the actual experience. Signs of PTSD include negative changes in mood, startling easily, unwanted traumatic memories resurfacing, hopelessness, flashbacks and nightmares. Stress commonly triggers PTSD and with older age comes new sources of stress, including health issues and the loss of loved ones.
Senior veterans experiencing PTSD should seek treatment. There are proven techniques to avoid PTSD and ways to promote relaxation and coping. Look for a therapist who has specific experience with senior veterans. Connecting with fellow veterans experiencing PTSD can also be extremely helpful. Many VA hospitals offer support groups.
Families and loved ones should be made aware if a senior veteran is coping with depression or PTSD. Being informed can help loved ones provide better support and avoid unintentionally triggering PTSD symptoms.
It’s important to stay physically active and mentally engaged. Senior centers are a great place to connect with others, take classes and exercise. A balanced diet, exercise, and regular interaction with friends can improve well-being and be a strong defense against depression.
Senior veterans fought for our freedom and deserve the best care possible. I urge any senior to seek out help if they are dealing with feelings of depression or PTSD. To learn how other veterans have dealt with PTSD, visit http://www.ptsd.va.gov/apps/AboutFace/ or if you have an immediate need call Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-TALK (8255). For more information about the Mental Health Center of Denver, visit mhcd.org.
Cheryl Clark, M.D. is the Vice President & Chief Medical/ Chief Clinical Officer at the Mental Health Center of Denver, which provides mental health and substance abuse treatment, housing, educational and employment and prevention services. Last year, the Mental Health Center of Denver provided services to 45,000 children, families and adults in Denver. For more information, visit www.mhcd.org.