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Effects of Trauma on the Elderly

Most people experience at least one trauma in their lives. While some are able to recover from traumatic events with little or no long-term issues, others never feel the same after a trauma. Protecting your mental health if you’ve experienced trauma is vital, especially if you’re an aging senior. Keep reading to learn more about the effects of trauma on the elderly.

Risk of Trauma in Seniors

Older adults are at an increased risk of certain traumatic events. Seniors who struggle with mobility or balance are vulnerable to falls and injuries. A serious fall can be extremely traumatic, especially if it happens when you’re alone. Other medical issues or diagnoses are a common source of trauma as well. The loss of a spouse or another close loved one can also cause trauma in seniors.

Does PTSD Get Worse With Age?

Not only are seniors at risk of experiencing trauma, but they also may struggle more with past traumas. Many older adults see a resurgence of their PTSD symptoms as they age. This likely happens because of the life transitions that happen at this stage. For example, retirement can dramatically change your lifestyle and daily routine. This sudden shift could be disruptive to your mental health. The loss of independence that often happens with age could be triggering, too.

Effects of Trauma on the Elderly

Both past and recent trauma can have a devastating impact on the overall health of older adults. Trauma puts stress on your mind and body, and the effects can last for years if you don’t get mental health treatment. Here are some of the most common effects of trauma on the elderly:

Physical Health Impacts

When you experience a trauma, your body may enter fight-or-flight mode. This heightened state causes increased heart rate and blood pressure, muscle tension, changes in hormone levels, and a number of other symptoms. While this may be beneficial when you’re facing an immediate crisis, being in a state of physical stress for a prolonged amount of time can take a toll on your health.
Many seniors who struggle with trauma always feel tense or on-edge, especially if they’re in a situation that triggers memories of the traumatic event. The following are just a few of the long-term impacts this can have on your health:

  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Heart disease
  • Lung disease

PTSD can also affect physical health outcomes in older adults because self-care becomes more difficult when you’re struggling with your mental health. If you’re overwhelmed by your trauma, you’re likely focusing on just surviving each day. Eating healthy meals, exercising, getting quality sleep, and other healthy habits can feel impossible when your mental health is suffering.

Mental Health Impacts

Not everyone who goes through traumatic events will develop PTSD, but trauma often leads to mental health symptoms. Seniors who have past experiences with trauma may see their mental health issues get worse as they age. Older adults who have recently gone through trauma may face new challenges with anxiety, depression, or other disorders.
After experiencing traumatic events, you may feel like you’re constantly living in fear. You might be terrified to go through another trauma, and you may isolate yourself to try to avoid triggers. The following are some of the most common symptoms that affect seniors with PTSD:

  • Recurring memories, flashbacks, or nightmares about the event
  • Avoiding people, places, or situations that remind you of the event
  • Feeling nervous or on-edge; startling easily
  • Feelings of hopelessness or emptiness
  • Social isolation
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Feeling disconnected and detached from the world
  • Reckless or self-destructive behavior
  • Memory problems

Trauma can lead to other mental health challenges, too. In addition to PTSD, many older adults with trauma have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or substance use disorders. Substance abuse is an especially serious problem for older adults. Drugs or alcohol can temporarily numb the emotional pain from the trauma. However, the long-term impacts of substance abuse far outweigh the short-term relief you might feel.

Cognitive Health Impacts

Maintaining good cognitive health is essential as you age. Unfortunately, trauma can lead to cognitive decline in seniors. Traumatic events have a physical impact on your brain, which may affect your memory and executive functioning. Older adults who are struggling with past trauma may have difficulty focusing on conversations, completing tasks, organizing their thoughts, and remembering names or dates.
PTSD may even be associated with an increased risk of dementia. Because the trauma has such intense long-term impacts on the brain, those with PTSD are more vulnerable to cognitive decline. Seniors often see their PTSD symptoms worsen with the onset of dementia, too.

Signs of Trauma in Older Adults

Recognizing the effects of trauma in an aging loved one can be difficult. You might notice that your family member is acting different but attribute the changes to aging or other health problems. By staying alert for the signs of trauma, you can help your loved one get the support they need. Here are some key symptoms to watch out for:

  • Avoiding certain people or places without a clear explanation
  • Appearing jumpy or on-edge
  • Withdrawing socially; spending more time at home
  • Speaking negatively about themselves or their life
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Appearing distant or disconnected


Treating PTSD in Seniors

Unresolved trauma can destroy your mental health and prevent you from enjoying your life. If you or your senior family member is showing signs of PTSD, you should reach out for professional support. Counseling for seniors is an excellent opportunity to process past trauma and develop healthy coping skills. Many older adults prefer not to open up about their mental health to family, but counseling provides a private environment for them to explore their thoughts, emotions, and experiences.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling provides therapy for older adults with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges. You can contact us today to learn more about our services.

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