Delayed Onset PTSD and Dementia

A recent article in a mental health publication suggests that some of the cognitive, behavioral and emotional symptoms of dementia might in some patients actually be “delayed onset Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD). PTSD symptoms include vivid remembering of a traumatic event (like military service, accidents, assaults), along with strong emotions like those experienced in the original incident. People with dementia also have these same sorts of symptoms, but treatment of the two disorders is quite different. It is quite common for people who have had trauma to be able to control their reactions and keep the old memories and emotions from intruding into their current consciousness. The authors suggest that as some people age, they are less able to do this, with the result that PTSD symptoms can emerge for the first time, even decades after the traumatic event. If “delayed onset PTSD” is recognized, it is a much more hopeful diagnosis than ordinary dementia. “Ordinary Dementia” is usually assumed to be due to accumulating brain dysfunction that can only be “managed”, not reversed. People with PTSD can be helped with a variety of talking therapies and medication, and there is a vast research literature about the best treatments. The authors hope their calling notice to the possibility of delayed PTSD will alert medical personnel working with the elderly.

Key Points:

  • 1Being able to determine the difference between PTSD and dementia is important, because it may change a person’s treatment plan.
  • 2Research shows that PTSD can also be experienced by people with dementia, long after the event causing the PTSD had passed.
  • 3PTSD may be playing a larger role in the behavior changes of people with dementia than previously thought.

“Therefore, it is important to look for a history of previous trauma in patients with BPSD (behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia) as this could be due to delayed onset PTSD.”

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