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Video Games and PTSD

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, is among only a few mental disorders that are triggered by a disturbing outside event…[i] such as sexual assault, serious injury or the threat of death.[i] The diagnosis may be given when a group of symptoms…continue for more than a month after the traumatic event. [ii]

How many people does PTSD effect?

1 out of 10 Americans [who experience trauma] the traumatic event causes a cascade of psychological and biological changes… [i] Women are more likely to experience more high impact trauma, and are also more likely to develop PTSD than men. Children are less likely to experience PTSD after trauma than adults, especially if they are under 10 years of age. [ii]

What causes PTSD?

Many Americans experience individual traumatic events ranging from car and airplane accidents to sexual assault and domestic violence. Other experiences, including those associated with natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes, affect multiple people simultaneously. Dramatic and tragic events, like the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and wars occur, and with media exposure such as we have today, even people not directly involved might be affected. [i] Alcohol abuse and drug abuse commonly co-occur with PTSD. [ii]

PTSD Facts

  • In the United States, 60% of men and 50% of women experience a traumatic event during their lifetimes. Of those, 8% of men and 20% of women may develop PTSD. A higher proportion of people who are raped develop PTSD than those who suffer any other traumatic event. Because women are much more likely to be raped than men (9% versus less than 1%), this helps explain the higher prevalence of PTSD in women than men. [i]
  • Some 88% of men and 79% of women with PTSD also have another psychiatric disorder. Nearly half suffer from major depression, 16% from other types of anxiety disorders besides PTSD, and 28% from social phobia. They also are more likely to have risky health behaviors such as alcohol abuse, which affects 52% of men with PTSD and 28% of women, while drug abuse is seen in 35% of men and 27% of women with PTSD. [i]
  • More than half of all Vietnam veterans, about 1.7 million, have experienced symptoms of PTSD. Although 60% of war veterans with PTSD have had serious medical problems, only 6% of them have a problem due to injury in combat. [i]
  • African Americans, when they are exposed to trauma, are more likely to develop PTSD than whites. [i]
  • People who are exposed to the most intense trauma are the most likely to develop PTSD. The higher the degree of exposure to trauma, the more likely you are to develop PTSD. So, if something happens to you more than once or if something occurs to you over a very long period of time, the likelihood of developing PTSD is increased. [i]
  • Sometimes, people who have heart attacks, cancer or other serious medical problems that pose a sudden threat to one’s physical integrity and produce feelings of horror and helplessness may develop PTSD.[i]
  • Refugees (people who have been through war conditions in their native country or fled from conflict) may develop PTSD and often go years without treatment. [i]
  • New mothers may develop PTSD after an unusually difficult delivery during childbirth. Also, patients who regain partial consciousness during surgery under general anesthesia may be at risk for developing PTSD. [i]

Symptoms of PTSD

Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD include recurring memories or nightmares of the event(s), sleeplessness, loss of interest, or feeling numb, anger, and irritability.[iv] Those with PTSD may also be experiencing these feeling as well:

  • Feeling upset by things that remind you of what happened [iv]
  • Having nightmares, vivid memories, or flashbacks of the event that make you feel like it’s happening all over again [iv]
  • Feeling emotionally cut off from others [iv]
  • Feeling numb or losing interest in things you used to care about [iv]
  • Becoming depressed [iv]
  • Thinking that you are always in danger [iv]
  • Feeling anxious, jittery, or irritated [iv]
  • Experiencing a sense of panic that something bad is about to happen [iv]
  • Having difficulty sleeping [iv]
  • Having trouble keeping your mind on one thing [iv]
  • Having a hard time relating to and getting along with your spouse, family, or friends [iv]

Treatment of PTSD 

1. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) seeks to change the way a trauma victim feels and acts by changing the patterns of thinking or behavior, or both, responsible for negative emotions. CBT has been proven to be an effective treatment for PTSD and is currently considered the standard of care for PTSD by the United States Department of Defense. In CBT, individuals learn to identify thoughts that make them feel afraid or upset and replace them with less distressing thoughts. The goal is to understand how certain thoughts about events cause PTSD-related stress. [ii]

2. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy developed and studied by Francine Shapiro. She had noticed that when she was thinking about disturbing memories herself, her eyes were moving rapidly. When she brought her eye movements under control while thinking, the thoughts were less distressing. [ii]

 Interpersonal psychotherapy

Other approaches, particularly involving social supports, may also be important. An open trial of interpersonal psychotherapy reported high rates of remission from PTSD symptoms without using exposure.A current, NIMH-funded trial in New York City is now (and into 2013) comparing interpersonal psychotherapy, prolonged exposure therapy, and relaxation therapy. [ii]

Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Video Games as a Treatment for Veterans of War

I’ve read blog posts about how some video games can cause PTSD, which I have found no medical research to prove this claim and of course people are hammering those bloggers with comments about how serious PTSD really is. I have personal experience with Video Games triggering PTSD. My father in law, who was in Vietnam can’t be in the same room when a war based game, like “Call of Duty”, is being played.  However roaming through the internet, I am finding some very interesting research where researchers are using Video Games to help treat PTSD.

“The Office of Naval Research and University of Southern California’s futuristic Institute for Creative Technologies combined resources to create the game to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Therapists guide veterans into their most difficult battlefield experience in order to gradually desensitize them.

“Studies are ongoing, but of the initial 20 patients treated with Virtual Iraq/Afghanistan, 16 no longer meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD at post-treatment.

“Imitating aspects of the popular game Full Spectrum Warrior, psychologist ‘Skip’ Rizzo and his colleagues conceptualized the program that allows veterans to re-live traumatic experiences from their time in theater. Therapists use a touch-screen to add helicopter sounds, change the whether or even waft in the smell of body odor.

“But the two cues that elicit the most intense physiological reactions? Rizzo says heart rates spike at the repeating gunfire of an AK-47 as well as at that most incongruous of battlefield noises: a baby’s cry.

“The idea is to reintroduce the trauma-inducing events slowly, until the patient no longer reacts strongly to the stimuli.”[iii]

The obvious conclusion seems that by bringing up and reliving painful traumatic experiences those with PTSD are able to deal with them and process all the events that take place.  This doesn’t come as a surprise to some, this was the natural progression of video game technology as private companies and the military have used video games in training for at least a decade, similar technology being used for tasks such as flight simulators and mock surgery.  However, keep in mind that using technology to cure PTSD is still experimental.

What can all this mean?  That with the help of modern technology, a psychologist or doctor, those with PTSD may find a cure rather than treatment of symptoms with medication.

[i]http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd

[ii]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ptsd

[iii]http://www.disaboom.com/disabled-veterans-general/video-game-helps-disabled-veterans-conquer-ptsd

[iv]http://maketheconnection.net/conditions/ptsd?gclid=CJLxssGKg7sCFetAMgodzmwAGQ

If you are suffering with PTSD or know someone who is, it is never too late to seek help.   Here are a few links to some pages that may provide you with help:

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder  There are so many links and resources on this page even tips on self-help.

http://ptsdusa.org/  They have a great quiz to see if you may have PTSD.

http://www.azptsd.org/ There are some great self-help tips.

http://www.giftfromwithin.org/html/psa.html Articles and more information about PTSD.

http://www.loveourvets.org/ Great site for Vets and Families.

Don’t forget that if you are a Veteran you can get help apply for VA Benefits in your state by finding a specialist: http://www.longtermcarelink.net/a7veteransbenefitsspecialist.htm

Written by Valerie Michel Buck

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Loneliness Increases Risk of Dementia

When people lose someone they care about, they might cope with it by speaking to the person as if they are still alive. But when does this coping mechanism turn from loneliness to a form of dementia? When does the desire for companionship turn from imagination to an untrue reality?

Dementia is a condition that affects not only the person losing their memory but also the family around them. It can range from not knowing which medications to take to forgetting that their spouse is no longer alive or not being able to recall the names of their children. Recent studies by the University Medical Centre in Amsterdam show that feeling lonely can be considered a major risk factor for dementia.

According to Dr. Jalling Jan Holwerda, “Individuals with feelings of loneliness remained 1.64 times more likely to develop clinical dementia than persons who did not feel lonely.”

Other studies in the past have spoken to the physical and mental harms of loneliness. Only now these harms are being found to have increasingly more links to dementia. Time Magazine stated: “Indeed a growing body of studies find that loneliness itself can kill, typically by raising blood pressure and increasing risk for heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure is also a risk factor for dementia.”

At the conclusion of the study conducted in Amsterdam in December 2012, they found that, in total, those who reported feeling lonely were 64 percent more likely to develop dementia than those who did not feel that way. The study stressed that the link was between feeling lonely and an increased risk for dementia. Many who participated in the study were part of social groups or lived amongst others. Physically your elderly loved one may not appear lonely or socially secluded but mentally they may still feel isolated.

As a child, you can’t completely blame yourself for your elderly parents’ feelings of loneliness. Certainly make an effort to visit them as much as you can or call them up on the phone. Try to be as much of a presence in their lives as possible, but you still won’t be able to be there one-hundred percent of the time. In order to decrease their risk of dementia you can help to decrease your elderly loved ones’ feelings of loneliness by recognizing the importance of finding a sustainable source of social interaction to keep your loved one emotionally and mentally healthy, even when you can’t be there.

Caregiverstress.com suggests that you get your elderly loved one a pet, if they are capable of taking care of one. Animals, especially dogs, can offer loving warmth and company. When people are very lonely, they may begin talking out loud to deceased loved ones or themselves just so they can hear a human voice. Pets make great listeners for the lonely or depressed.

Another way to increase social interaction while also providing a feeling of purpose and importance is to encourage your elderly loved one to volunteer. There is such a large variety of volunteer opportunities for any number of individual capabilities. You can read to children, help out in the store area of a local food pantry, play a musical instrument for fellow elderly in assisted living, nursing or independent living homes, gather or sew clothing for the homeless, or help out at church or religious events. Volunteering isn’t just for young people hoping to bolster their resumes. Volunteering strengthens communities but it also strengthens the volunteers. It gives them a feeling of self-worth, a feeling that they are doing something, no matter how small, to make a difference. Volunteering is one of the strongest weapons in combating loneliness. If your elderly loved one is able, encourage them to find somewhere or some way to volunteer.

As suggested by Caregiverstress.com, if your elderly loved one is feeling lonely you might want to make sure that there are not physical problems that could be causing it. Elderly who lose their hearing often begin to feel cut-off from others because they don’t really get what’s going on. Shakiness or other physical inabilities may make them feel weak and helpless which could lead them to feeling unable to participate in certain activities and thus cause them to decline offers for social interaction. If your elderly loved one is severely limited physically, you may consider hiring an in-home caregiver to give your elderly loved one a companion that they can talk to for at least some part of the day.

The battle against loneliness is now the battle against dementia, and it has never been more important to not only pay attention to your loved one’s physical health, but their emotional and mental health as well. We want to keep our elderly loved ones around as long as possible so let’s make certain that we’re doing everything we can to help them feel important, needed, and, most importantly, loved.

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