Veterans and service members returning from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan often deal with the ill effects of their combat experience long after they leave the battlefield and come home to their loved ones. Victims of calamities, terror acts and other catastrophes also have lingering effects of mental trauma after the event.
According to the VA, as much as 16 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan post-9/11 suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Around 7 percent suffer from both PTSD and TBI (particularly mild TBI). More people may have symptoms that they are either unaware of or may be reluctant to seek help for because of the stigma against mental illness.
Families and friends are the first ones to notice changes in a loved one who come home from foreign wars. These veterans always feel on edge, easily startled, irritable, prone to angry and violent outbursts, have flashbacks of the event, sleep less and fatigued. They can also become indifferent, numb, depressed and lose interest in things and their family life. Indeed most of them have trouble getting along with friends and family.
The VA has a system in place to take care of those who suffer from symptoms of PTSD and TBI, the two most common injuries among veterans. Veterans are offered access to low-cost mental health therapists among other benefits and are referred to support groups. Prescription medication, formal therapy and use of VA facilities are some of the most important components of this system.
An important but overlooked aspect is community support and home health care. A competent PTSD therapist or medical professional will have a program designed for the veteran, but if it is not followed through at home and in the community, it will all be for naught. While formal support groups are extremely helpful, friends and family should be the ultimate “support group” for those with PTSD and TBI.
However, caregiver stress is common among family members who are often hurt (physically or mentally) or drained from the experience. PTSD can be disruptive enough to wreak havoc on families that they may not be able to help each other effectively. If the burden is too much, they can lean on home care services for help.
These services offer personal care assistants (PCA) to help ease the load while you “recharge your batteries” or go on an extended break from family caregiving. These people are trained, non-medical professionals who can provide the physical needs of someone with a TBI. They will be someone who is around to talk to and provide emotional support. Just having someone to share their experiences and vent their feelings is huge for those with PTSD and depression.
Home care services can include home health nurses who can assess patients with TBI and PTSD, drop in for home health visits, or refer them to more formal care. Non-medical personnel such as PCAs meanwhile can assist with activities of daily living, taking prescription pills, preparing healthy meals or accompany the patient to a doctor’s appointment. Medications to treat PTSD are effective but can have adverse effects if not taken properly. A PCA can guide in taking the right medication at the right time to maximize benefits. Someone with a TBI from a blow to the head suffered in a battle field can be confused with what pill to take and when, and a PCA can help him sort it out.
These home care assistants also encourage physical activity to lessen tension and promote overall well-being. Increased socialization to fight off withdrawal and depression is also key, and home care services can provide some form of social contact if the veteran is not yet ready to go out and participate in family gatherings and social events.
If you are not around as a family caregiver, you may miss certain warning signs of PTSD that merit attention such as increasing anxiety, worsening depression, missing medications, hallucinations or intent to harm self or others, or even overt violent acts or criminal activity. Someone like a PCA who is around to spot these worrisome signs can be invaluable as things can quickly escalate.
As more and more Americans come home to their families from wars fought abroad, they may be more battle-scarred than we ever thought they would be. It is said that PTSD and TBI are prevalent but experts fear that these conditions are likely underreported among the veteran population. If you have a family member who fought as a serviceman or servicewomen abroad, be on the lookout for signs of TBI or PTSD. They may need to receive mental health care, attend therapy and take prescription medication.
Talk to the VA and seek help for your loved one as they may not seek it themselves. A trusted PTSD therapist or doctor can prepare a treatment plan. You as a caregiver will make sure this plan is followed even at home. However, you may not get along with your family member who has PTSD or may be unwilling to put in extra hours after work or school.
The services of a PCA from a reliable home care agency can be helpful for this dilemma. Conditions such as PTSD and TBI, like other invisible wounds of war, will not easily go away, but you can get a helping hand from personal care services for your loved one. They fought for you and our country, it’s time to return the favor.