Trauma is part of life. No person is immune from it, and we must all learn to cope with the stresses of life. While some people face mountains of trauma throughout their lives, others are a bit luckier. However, most of us will deal with the loss of a loved one much more frequently as we enter our twilight years.
Of course, for those who are married, one spouse is inevitably left to deal with the loss of the other. The stress of this loss is sometimes enough to send the surviving spouse into an emotional tailspin that can result in a significant decline.
While such a monumental loss can be difficult to recover from, some of the multitudes of other traumatic experiences that we face during life can be overcome if we understand coping mechanisms, triggers, and what can bring relief.
Who is Affected?
The US Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) recently conducted a study that showed that up to 90% of seniors have experienced at least one traumatic event during their lifetime.
In truth, it may be hard to imagine that 10% of us never experience trauma, but perhaps that depends on how it is defined for the study. The study conducted at the VA might be looking more closely at military service-related traumatic experiences, for which the bar defining trauma may be set a bit higher.
If we’re looking at the general population, and consider a wider breadth of potential traumatic experiences, it’s hard to imagine anyone being shielded from it for the entirety of their lives.
The fact is, anyone could need some help coping with varying degrees of trauma in their lives. Our senior loved ones face particular challenges with regard to this.
For those inflicted with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), this can advance to becoming chronic in seniors, and ultimately diminish their ability to deal with new stress that may arise as life pushes forward.
Seniors’ bodies become less effective with age at regulating hormone levels, particularly with adrenaline and cortisol which are associated with stress and “fight-flight-or-freeze” response, meaning these responses may linger much longer than they typically would in a well-regulated body.
Seniors may have experienced significant trauma in their lives, and if this is not dealt with, it can become a feedback loop in which new stressors take a higher toll on their well-being.
Transitional Trauma in Seniors
The stress of moving out of a long-occupied home can be traumatic on seniors. So much so that it has become known as “transitional trauma” among elderly care providers. This is certainly understandable if the move is into a care facility, but transitional trauma can occur even just moving into more manageable and suitable accommodations.
This may be compounded if they are moving out of a family home where they spent a good deal of their lives and created many good memories.
Helping Seniors Cope with Stress of an Elder Care Facility
There are ways that you can help your elderly family cope with the multitude of stressors to which they are exposed. The first is to help them learn mindfulness if they are not already familiar with the concept.
Fostering mindfulness may involve bringing more art or music into their lives or providing them with ways to listen to guided meditation. Meditation has been proven to decrease stress. Short, simple guided meditation exercises on CD, for example, are an easy tool to use.
Connection to family and friends is often the highlight of senior life. Doing what you can to facilitate or maintain these connections will benefit your elder loved ones immensely. Keeping your attitude and language positive can also help them maintain their positive outlook.
Ensuring that physical movement or exercise is part of their routine will also have positive effects.
Experiment with variations on these themes and you may discover your own tips for helping people find effective coping mechanisms. As long as you maintain an intention to help, your presence, efforts, and energies are the best medicine you can provide to help your beloved senior family members put traumatic experiences behind them. Speak with one of our senior care managers in California to find additional ways to help your elderly loved ones deal with trauma in their golden years.