We most often hear the acronym PTSD as it relates to those returning from the stresses of battle in a time of war.  As a caregiver for an older adult, you may have recognized some similarities in your own emotional response to your situation.  They are similar in many ways.  While your own life might not be in danger (though in many ways it could), the life of someone for whom you care is very much in the balance.

When trying to balance the various emotional, medical and financial aspects of a loved one’s care, there never seems to be enough time or energy for those responsible to get much time to relax.  There is much written about the topic of caregiver stress, but not as much attention is paid to the physical and mental consequences people have to this high-pressure atmosphere.

Common manifestations of caregiver stress are compassion fatigue and burnout spawned by feelings of anger, sadness, anxiety, and guilt.

When those who care for others experience an unsettling stressful event, such as observing a loved-one die suddenly or seeing him or her struggle with an uncomfortable ailment, they may develop indications of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  PTSD is an anxiety disorder that manifests itself in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, and a form of hyper-vigilance that occurs after a person witnesses a traumatic event.

PTSD is commonly associated with survivors of calamities like those witnessed by first responders, combat veterans, and victims of abuse or violence, symptoms can also similarly impact those who are committed to caregiving.  Just the experiences of every day living in caring for someone who is prone to angry, violent outbursts can create a “fight or flight” reaction to the situation.  This can lead to full-blown PTSD.

But, while anyone can develop PTSD, it is important to realize that this mental health ailment does not present the same way in every person. Different things can trigger different reactions. Some people may not think twice about a given situation, whereas the same event might trigger PTSD symptoms for someone else. Risk factors for PTSD include long-lasting or repeated trauma, depression, anxiety, negative temperament.  Having a high-stress responsibility like caregiving increases one’s risk of exposure to further distress.

For those in charge of senior adult caregiving, forestalling PTSD by relying on professional help is often a wise course.  It does not mean giving up control of the situation, but it can provide some much-needed emotional relief and spacing.  Keeping caregivers healthy is as important as it is for those for whom they care.