Q: Can PTSD affect seniors?

A: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has thankfully lost its stigma and is more readily discussed now than ever before. Once considered only in the context of military veterans, PTSD can impact people of all ages and walks of life. It often affects seniors differently, as they may be dealing not only with trauma –but also the stressors that accompany aging. With passing years, older adults may experience a resurgence of PTSD symptoms, even if managed well earlier in life. Cognitive decline, retirement, health issues and increased isolation can all act as triggers.

PTSD – Defined:

The Mayo Clinic defines post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as “a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event— either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.” The National Center for PTSD estimates “about six out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men.”


Cognitive Decline and PTSD:

Aging can lead to cognitive decline, or the gradual loss of thinking abilities. Memory issues can exacerbate flashbacks and intrusive thoughts, as the brain struggles to differentiate between past trauma and present reality. This can heighten anxiety and confusion, making daily life challenging.


Retirement and Identity Loss:

After working a lifetime, people can experience a profound sense of loss in retirement. Without a familiar sense of identity, purpose and community, seniors may feel isolated and adrift–leading to the re-emergence of trauma-related memories and feelings.


Health Issues:

Chronic health problems can exacerbate PTSD, with trauma responses triggered by the stress of managing illnesses and pain. Hospital environments or medical procedures may remind individuals of traumatic experiences, leading to increased symptoms.



The loss of spouses, friends, and family members can lead to profound loneliness and social isolation in seniors. This can make it harder to seek and receive emotional support (crucial for managing PTSD) and cause aging adults to ruminate more on their traumatic experiences.


Interventions and Support:

Addressing PTSD in seniors requires personalized interventions that consider their unique needs. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) remains a cornerstone of PTSD treatment, but group therapy and support groups, medication and holistic approaches like mindfulness, yoga and art therapy can all play a role in managing symptoms.


Join me on June 14 for a discussion of PTSD during Senior Health Friday. RSVP online at or call 321-751-6771 in Viera.


One Senior Place is a marketplace for resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their families. Questions for this column are answered by professionals in nursing, social work, care management and in-home care. Send questions to, call 321-751-6771 or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging. Lisa Conway is a Registered Nurse, Certified Dementia Practitioner and a Certified Care Manager for Senior Partner Care Services, Viera. Ms. Conway hosts a monthly seminar, ‘Senior Health Friday with Nurse Lisa.’