Saturday, June 23 , 2018, 12:35 am | Fog/Mist 60º

Your Health
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Rona Barrett: Family Caregivers Serve as Unsung Heroes on the Homefront

"The greatest casualty is being forgotten."

Let’s offer a hearty salute to the Wounded Warrior Project for using this call to action as a catalyst in its 12-year battle to bring out from the shadows a disorder suffered by 15 percent of returning veterans — post-traumatic stress disorder, or PSTD.

It’s because of their efforts that we now know people in high-stress positions, including first responders, law enforcement personnel and those exposed to trauma as a victim or eyewitness, can also suffer from PTSD.

But what many of us don’t realize is there is another group of wounded — about 10 percent out of 60 million — who are, or are at risk from, suffering from PTSD. They are our "silent soldiers” — our unsung heroes — our family caregivers.

Fighting their own day-to-day battle on the homefront with the same mettle and valor as our soldiers and first responders, family caregivers — many of them seniors — must often take on their new roles with little warning or no training. They are often unequipped with the emotional tools or support resources to cope with the stress of ongoing care of their ailing loved one.

Consequently, our silent soldiers, like their wounded warrior brethren, must battle the symptoms of PTSD: fear and anxiety, nervousness, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, irritability, sadness, feelings of isolation, guilt, changes in sleep or eating, crying spells, emotional numbness, nightmares, shock, increased heart rate, muscle tension, rapid breathing, and inability to stop replaying traumatic events.

Take it from this veteran of the caregiver wars, all of this adds up to battle fatigue. How can you not feel helpless, overwhelmed by responsibilities, caught up in the unpredictability and uncontrollability of the disease or illness your loved one is enduring?

The debilitating effect of PTSD on caregivers under the gun is just beginning to be realized. There are some resources and support. And those who need it, those caring for shut-ins, have in some form become the same: emotional and physical shut-ins. So getting the information to those who need it is the challenge.

The Wounded Warrior Project's first attack on PTSD was to raise awareness. It worked because President Barack Obama proclaimed to veterans, "We got your back."

Their second attack is continuing to help veterans realize these symptoms are not a sign of failure or mental fragility. There is treatment for the mind, body and spirit.

Their third attack is providing support, resources, treatment and relief to ensure veterans of all ages are marching on the path to living productive lives.

And what about our silent soldiers? As seniors become the largest population on the planet, the number of family caregivers will grow exponentially.

Last year, November was proclaimed “National Family Caregivers Month.” Let’s not wait until then to offer our appreciation and support to our silent soldiers. Let’s tell them, “I got your back." Because whether selfless soldiers are fighting the good at the battlefield, on the homefront or in their own home, “The greatest casualty is being forgotten.”

Stay tuned for more on this subject.

Until next time ... keep thinking the good thoughts.

— For more than 30 years, Rona Barrett was a pioneering entertainment reporter, commentator and producer. Since 2000, she has focused her attention and career on the growing crisis of housing and support for our aging population. She is the founder and CEO of the Rona Barrett Foundation, the catalyst behind Santa Ynez Valley’s first affordable senior housing, the Golden Inn & Village. Contact her at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.

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