Many veterans continue to suffer from the emotional scars of war long after they served in combat, and the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may increase with age. This can be challenging for caregivers who haven’t served in active duty and don’t understand their loved one’s personal experience. If you are caring for an aging veteran who is struggling with symptoms later in life, there are a number of things that you can do to help.

Symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

First, it helps to research post-traumatic stress disorder and to understand some of the most common symptoms, including:

  • Difficulty sleeping;
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger;
  • Difficulty concentrating;
  • Hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”);
  • Feeling jumpy and easily startled; and
  • Recurring dreams and nightmares.

There are numerous reasons why these symptoms might increase with age. Older veterans often have more time to think and fewer things to distract them from their memories. Additionally, watching bad news on TV or reading about current wars in the paper can bring back bad memories.

Tips for Families with a Veteran

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If your loved one is having a hard time dealing with wartime memories, here are some things you can do to help.

Be a Good Listener

Ask about their personal experience. It can be as simple as saying, “Tell me what it was like.” They might be hesitant to open up at first, so don’t rush them. But be available to bear witness, and be a good listener when they do wish to open up.

Find a Local Support Group

It can be incredibly helpful to talk to someone who has been through the war or other hard times. Encourage them to communicate and socialize with other veterans and professionals who are trained and experienced in dealing with aging and PTSD.

Treat It as an Injury

Post-traumatic stress is simply a wound that can’t be seen. Help your aging veteran feel strong and safe by encouraging them to exercise, eat well and volunteer.

Document Their Experience

The Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center collects, preserves and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. Help your loved one share their valuable stories through personal narratives, correspondence or visual materials.

For more information on caring for veterans who need help with managing their PTSD, visit the National Center for PTSD.

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