Delayed Onset PTSD and Dementia

As any caregiver knows, dementia can change the personality of a loved one, bringing about depression, irritability and even moodiness. A new study has found that these changes may not merely be side effects of the disease, but may indicate a very serious condition called delayed-onset post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).Delayed Onset PTSD and Dementia

Learn more about the study and how PTSD may be playing a larger role in the behavior changes of people with dementia than previously thought.

Misdiagnosed Anxiety, Delayed Onset PTSD and Dementia

A new study published in the journal Progress in Neurology and Psychiatrysuggests that some people with dementia may be experiencing PTSD – a condition caused by very distressing, frightening or stressful events. The disorder is usually diagnosed in working-age adults and is infrequently diagnosed among seniors.

Because so many people with dementia experience changes in personality, most doctors dismiss these changes as side-effects of the disease called behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD).

However, research shows that PTSD can also be experienced by people with dementia, long after the event causing the PTSD had passed. Participants of the study showed instances of reliving events through flashbacks and nightmares, causing them to feel guilty, irritable and lonely.

Being able to determine the difference between BPSD and PTSD and dementia is important, because it may change a person’s treatment plan, grant more access to therapy earlier, and tell doctors how traumatic events early in life can impact a person’s neurological health.

Senior author of the study, Dr. Tarun Kuruvilla, said of the research, “Every patient with dementia has a unique narrative, which if captured in the earlier stages of the disease, enables clinicians and their families to understand the origin of their distress.”

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

How do you feel about the connection between PTSD and dementia? Is it possible your loved one’s behavioral changes are a result of delayed onset PTSD? Share your stories with us in the comments below.

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Please leave your thoughts and comments

  • kate

    Recent work on ICU-related delirium suggests that the experience of serious, especially sudden onset, illness, including the treatment modalities such as intubation or tracheostomy as well as the totality of the ICU experience, may be experienced as psychologically traumatic in the elderly. The correlation between ICU delirium and exacerbation/ progression of dementia is widely recognized, with higher rates and prolonged periods of delirium found among individuals with pre-existing dementias. Perhaps the line between BPSD and PTSD is not a clear as this article suggests.


    MY husband lost his two young children (ages 3 and 4) in a fire over 40 years ago. I always felt that there was some connection between this traumatic event and his early signs of dementia. Would love to know how we could explore this further.

  • Shana

    My sister is 64 and lost a child in a motor cycle accident 15 years ago and now has dementia.

  • CCR

    My father is 90, diagnosed in 2010. Symptoms started showing about a year after my mother passed (2006). Around 1977 my father was sailing with a friend and a storm hit. My father’s friend fell overboard and his body was never found. Dad was rescued by coast guard. He has been plagued with active nightmares since diagnosis.

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