PTSD in WW2 Vets
Late onset trauma plagues war veterans
Significant numbers of World War II veterans with no previous history of mental health problems were starting to suffer nightmares, a
psychiatrist said today.
Dr Michael Robertson, the director of the Mayo-Wesley Centre for mental health at Taree in NSW, said veterans in their
eighties were showing signs of late onset Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
(PTSD) more than half a century after their war service ended.
While cases of PTSD after war service are not unusual, Dr Robertson said there had been little research into older veterans
suffering symptoms decades later "largely because it probably hasn't emerged yet".
"We're ... seeing a large number of older veterans. Quite a lot of them are presenting with nightmares, intrusive memories of the
war which are quite disabling for them," Dr Robertson told AAP.
"This is the first time that they've ever had anything like this in
their life and this has been corroborated by their spouse.
"Inquiry has found that there's really been no evidence of mental
ill-health up until this point."
Dr Robertson said the veterans were suffering acute symptoms similar to recent victims of car accidents.
"Somebody who had a car accident or was in a fire ... and they came in for treatment for PTSD would complain prominently of
nightmares," he sai
"As the PTSD grumbles on, as we see in a lot of Vietnam veterans, the problems there are more irritability, avoidant
"It's interesting that these older veterans who present for the first
time actually complain of symptoms that are very similar to
acute onset of PTSD."
Dr Robertson said stories in the media sometimes triggered distressing memories of the war for veterans.
He said an example was a World War II veteran who tried to rescue a number of sailors from a sinking ship only to watch
"He had to be hospitalised when the Kursk submarine tragedy was on," said Dr Robertson, who presented his findings to the
College of Psychiatrists congress in Canberra today.
"It's just very sad that these older fellows went through so much and
they're having to spend their last years terrorised by it."
The problems appear to be triggered when a veteran retires, becomes ill or suffers family problems.
"There's a number of arguments as to how it might happen," Dr
"From a psychological point of view, people regard old age as a time when you have to put your life in perspective, you have
to put everything in order, so perhaps late in life they're having to confront things that happen because in the early parts of their
adulthood they've been working or they've been too busy.
"Others might think that perhaps the brain ages. There's a part of the brain called the hippocampus which starts to degenerate,
maybe there's something to do with that.
"As in most things, we tend to say there's biological, psychological and social reasons why these things happen."