When you’re a caregiver for a veteran, you have an important role in supporting their health and wellness. Not only are you caring for an aging loved one, but you’re also caring for a veteran who may have unique challenges.
As a caregiver for a veteran, you have the power to enhance your senior loved one’s quality of life and serve as an advocate on their behalf. Let’s explore strategies and programs for veterans and their caregivers that can enhance day-to-day quality of life.
Support Senior Veterans’ Emotional, Physical, and Mental Health
Each person is unique, and this is especially true with veterans. The type of care they require will vary for each person.
Some veterans may need emotional and mental care in addition to physical care, to help with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and other health concerns. Because of service-related injuries, older veterans may also have a more limited ability to perform tasks of daily living.
If the veteran you’re caring for has PTSD, it’s important to develop an understanding of the condition. It can cause certain symptoms that last for years after the event and vary in intensity, including:
- Vivid flashbacks
- Distress at reminders of the traumatic event
- Physical sensations such as trembling, pain, or sweating
Understanding which triggering events create PTSD symptoms is important. For example, some small triggers, such as the sound of a car backfiring or a thunderstorm, may mean nothing to people without PTSD but can create a reaction for those with PTSD. Every person is different, so understanding which triggers bother them and how to address each situation is key.
Redirection can be helpful to shift away from an episode of PTSD. This strategy involves talking with the person about unrelated topics to help them focus on something else.
For example, if loud noises such as thunderstorms are triggers for them, talking about a TV show they’re watching can help them focus more on you and the conversation instead of the loud, distressing sounds. It can take a while to pull a veteran out of their PTSD event. For example, they may not seem fully involved in the conversation right away, but it’s important to continue talking until they’re able to focus on you instead of the distressing stimulus around them.
Adhere to a Routine
Veterans have spent many years following a routine during their military service, some of them for decades. Adhering to a routine with the senior veteran you’re caring for can be beneficial for you and them. For example, you may go to the grocery store on the same day each week, have meals at the same time, and even have a nighttime routine before bed. These practices add structure and predictability to your senior loved one’s day.
If the veteran you’re caring for has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, maintaining a predictable routine is critical for avoiding stress and cognitive complications. For seniors with memory problems, routine provides a feeling of safety and security.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a variety of resources and treatment options available to support veterans’ mental health. Services include PTSD screening, depression support, TBI support, and more. It’s important to note that those who were dishonorably discharged from the military may not be eligible for VA benefits.
The VA healthcare program covers checkups with a primary care physician as well as appointments with specialists such as mental health providers. It also provides access to resources such as medical equipment, prescriptions, and prosthetics. Disability Compensation
This VA benefit provides a monthly payment to veterans who either got sick or injured during their service or whose service worsened a preexisting condition. Disability compensation covers both physical conditions and mental conditions such as PTSD.
Life insurance offers financial security for current service members, veterans, their spouses, and their dependents. Former service members are covered as long as they continue paying their premiums, and they can get up to $500,000 in life insurance benefits depending on the coverage they chose.
The VA recognizes the importance of caregivers who support veterans, and it offers several programs to support caregivers.
Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers
First, the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) is specifically for family caregivers. The program provides:
- Mental health counseling
- Education and training on caregiving for a veteran
- Travel assistance if you need to travel with your loved one so they can receive care
- Access to healthcare benefits
- A monthly payment
Eligibility requirements for the caregiver include being at least 18 years of age and either living with the veteran or being a spouse, parent, child, stepfamily member, or extended family member of the veteran. Eligibility requirements for the veteran include having a disability rating of 70 percent or higher, being discharged from the military, and needing at least six months of in-person care services.
Program of General Caregiver Support Service
The Program of General Caregiver Support Services (PGCSS) is for caregivers who aren’t relatives of the veteran. The program provides coaching, skills training, peer support mentoring, and more to caregivers of veterans. To be eligible, you must be a caregiver of a veteran enrolled in VA healthcare.
Military Caregiver PEER Forum
The nationwide Military Caregiver PEER Forum employs military counselors to hold forums for caregivers of veterans on topics including stress management, nutrition, employment, and financial wellness.
Is It the Right Time to Consider a Senior Living Community?
You may be wondering whether the senior veteran you’re caring for needs additional day-to-day support. As a caregiver, it’s important to be ready to change as the veteran’s needs change.
Senior living communities are staffed by team members who are accustomed to providing around-the-clock support and providing assistance with daily tasks. So, how do you know when it’s the right time to explore senior living options?
The Benefits of a Senior Living Community
Senior living communities provide many benefits, including around-the-clock care, a feeling of community, healthy dining options, and engaging programming and special events tailored to residents’ interests.
Socialization is one of the top benefits of senior living communities. Socialization improves seniors’ quality of life and mood, and it reduces social isolation and loneliness. Communities such as Cedarhurst Senior Living are designed around socialization and strengthening existing connections as well as enabling residents to make new connections.
Signs to Consider a Senior Living Community
There are a few signs that it may be time to explore senior living options, including when your senior loved one:
- Has experienced an increasing number of falls in the past few months
- Has received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
- Is living with chronic pain
- Struggles with personal hygiene or other personal care tasks
Not sure which lifestyle option is right for you? We've got a quiz for that. Answer a few questions to get direction from our experts.Take the Quiz
To determine if it’s the right time for senior living, we recommend taking a quick, free assessment.
Interested in Exploring the Power of Senior Living?
Social connection is one of the top benefits of a senior living community, essential to quality of life and reducing social isolation. Explore our guide The Power of Connection for Senior Health to see how senior living can provide the opportunities for socialization that senior veterans need.