PTSD and grief – how to be there for your loved one :: WRAL.com


This article was written for our sponsor, 3HC.

Seasonal joys like the surf and sand of summertime, the blooms of springtime, the crisp crunch of fall, or the warmth of the holiday season are some of life’s simple pleasures. However, the months can go by slowly and with difficulty, especially for elderly individuals suffering from grief and post-traumatic stress disorder year-round.

“The elderly population tends to get more depressed from PTSD or grief due to loneliness and a lack of social interaction. Their children are grown and gone, spouses may have died, and they’re reading obituaries of their friends’ passings,” said Dr. Razia Hafiz, a specialist in geriatric medicine and hospice and palliative medicine in Sanford.

According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 70 to 90 percent of adults aged 65 and older have been exposed to at least one potentially traumatic event during their lifetime, and while many older adults don’t meet the full criteria for a PTSD diagnosis, they may still exhibit symptoms.

Hafiz explained young adults have an easier time handling grief and trauma because of the presence of a daily routine. For the elderly, avoidance-based coping strategies, such as busying oneself with work or family, typically aren’t an option anymore. Isolation, medical comorbidities, cognitive impairment and general functional decline also increase the challenge of coping with memories of earlier trauma.

While a wide range of traumas can lead to PTSD, from physical assault to the sudden death of a loved one to military combat, a common thread among those struggling is the avoidance of triggers. This means that traditionally celebratory events, like fireworks and parades, can worsen flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, paranoia, and other symptoms.

“They try to avoid trauma-provoking situations, which can lead to emotional numbness, diminished interest in daily activities and substance abuse, which may result in social isolation,” Hafiz explained.

The elderly population suffering from PTSD is less likely to voice a need for help or seek medical attention. When care is sought out, Hafiz recommends approaching the issue from multiple angles. Familial and social support, spiritual guidance, coping strategies like meditation, psychotherapy and medical treatment for underlying diseases should all be incorporated.

One powerful, often overlooked aspect of treatment is hope.

“When patients are in tremendous distress related to trauma, grief or a progressive, life-limiting illness that causes extreme anxiety or fear, hope allows patients and their families to cope with this stress. It gives them the courage to go through the treatment process, and a sense of control and dignity,” Hafiz continued.

In cases of serious illnesses and diseases, hope may look different.

“Hope is not always about finding a cure for the disease, especially incurable diseases. Physicians always have to be honest with the patient about the trajectory of the disease and give them alternative treatment options,” Hafiz said. “Aggressive life-prolonging measures can make suffering worse, whereas measures to make patients more comfortable can improve the quality of life.”

Perhaps the most impactful aspect of care, however, is the support of loved ones.

“Family members and loved ones have a far greater impact on patients dealing with illness, suffering, distress, and happiness long-term than anyone else can,” Hafiz said.

Physicians and health care professionals can proactively stand alongside family support systems, especially if individuals are required to make end-of-life medical decisions for terminally ill patients. Still, no one is more effective at helping an elderly individual cope and prepare, ultimately, for the end of life’s journey than a loved one.

“Family members, good friends, neighbors, or loved ones can share patients’ emotional distress, anguish and heartache, which helps them not go through the sufferings alone,” Hafiz said.

The most important way you can be there for your loved one who is struggling with PTSD or grief is letting them know that you care and that they are not alone.

This article was written for our sponsor, 3HC.



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