Medical professionals in the U.S. today have reported more instances of individuals suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than ever before. According to studies conducted by advocacy groups in conjunction with information from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the number of military veterans treated for PTSD has increased to one in five in the past three years. This disease is also responsible for 20 percent of suicides in the U.S. as of 2012. 1
For veterans that have been injured during their deployment reports of PTSD symptoms have drastically increased. Enlisted soldiers have been found to be twice as likely as officers to develop PTSD, and Marines and Army officials were four times more likely to develop the disorder than those enlisted members not exposed to warfare. 2 It is important for anyone interested in a career as a nurse practitioner or medical assistant to be well-versed in the symptoms associated with PTSD, and how to address them with sensitivity.
Psychotherapy is widely used with PTSD sufferers
The social and economic costs of PTSD are extreme, but the mental and emotional toll it takes on these individuals is a major motivation leading more medical professionals to do research to help these vets. One very common form of therapy used for veterans with PTSD is subjecting them to fear-evoking situations in a safe environment that will motivate them to replace their traumatic memories with new ones. However, it has not been proven effective for older memories.
Psychotherapy has been found be be very helpful for PTSD sufferers. By helping the survivor develop new coping skills with emotion regulation, relaxation and mindfulness, some degree of relief has been reported by veterans. However, studies have shown that in order for this form of therapy to be effective, the individual needs to have some form of stability. 3 There is a large population of veterans who are homeless or experience addiction to drugs or alcohol, and this can interfere with their ability to explore and treat their trauma.3 The number of veterans reporting that they cannot find relief with therapy alone has prompted new research within the health care community.
New drug is being tested to determine its ability to help
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have issued a report detailing their discovery of a new way to help veterans with this disorder and other anxiety issues caused by their wartime experience. A drug known as histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACis) has demonstrated the ability to replace traumatic memories with new ones in laboratory mice. Veterans returning from service with symptoms of PTSD are usually advised to use psychotherapy to treat their condition, but for older memories it doesn’t always work. This study is the researchers’ attempt to provide an explanation for why old memories are hard to erase, and how HDACis can complement a regimen of psychotherapy to treat the disorder. 4
To study the efficacy of this drug, researchers subjected mice to a series of tones and shocks to determine if it was possible to unlearn a pain response. They concluded that the drug helped the rodents overcome their recent traumatic memories because their instinct to avoid the sound followed by the shock was strengthened. The researchers believe this drug can someday help people suffering from PTSD. The goal is to encourage the brain to form stronger memories to override the fearful ones the veterans developed during their service.
However, there are still roadblocks in the path to treat veterans who have issues with older memories. Psychotherapy or fear-evoking treatment has not been found effective in veterans who did not seek treatment right away, but are suffering from memories of trauma that occurred years ago, versus months or weeks. According to the senior study author of the MIT experiment, “If you do something within this window of time, then you have the possibility of modifying the memory or forming a new trace of memory that actually instructs the animal that this is not such a dangerous place. However, the older the memory is, the harder it is to really change that memory. Our experiments really strongly argue that either the old memories are permanently being modified, or a new much more potent memory is formed that completely overwrites the old memory.” 5
Volunteer opportunities allow students to help with therapy
The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has volunteer programs currently in place for high schoolers as well as medical students to help veterans. These volunteers are available to help vets gain access to medical help, encourage them to seek therapy, and be companions for a population of people that feel very isolated by their disorder. Because the number of people coming forward with symptoms of PTSD is on the rise, people pursuing for career in health care should prepare themselves for encountering veterans who suffer from PTSD.
1 “Shocking PTSD, suicide rates for vets,” Face the Facts USA.org, June 5, 2103, http://www.facethefactsusa.org/facts/the-true-price-of-war-in-human-terms
2 “PTSD Statistics,” PTSD Treatment Help.com, http://ptsdtreatmenthelp.com/statistics/
3 Staggs, Sara, “Psychotherapy Treatment for PTSD,” Psych Central.com, Jan. 23, 2013, http://psychcentral.com/lib/treatment-of-ptsd/000665
4 “New drug may help combat PTSD by overriding painful memories,” Fox News.com, Jan. 17, 2013, http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/01/17/new-drug-may-help-combat-ptsd-by-overriding-painful-memories/
5 Lees, Kathleen, “Drug may help PTSD patients replace traumatic memories with new ones,” Science World Report.com, Jan. 17, 2014, http://www.scienceworldreport.com/articles/12240/20140117/drug-may-help-ptsd-patients-replace-traumatic-memories-with-new-ones.htm