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Improve your understanding of patients' personal histories, older people's nurses urged

Patient behaviour can often be explained by the trauma of living through second world war

Nurses have been encouraged to brush up on their knowledge of the second world war so that they can care more effectively for older people.

Many of those who lived through the war are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but have never been diagnosed, the sixth International Nurse Education Conference in Brisbane, Australia, heard, because the condition was not identified until the 1970s.

Others have dementia and are traumatised by memories that they have spent the past 70 years trying to suppress.

Regina Klein, professor of nursing at the Carinthia University of Applied Sciences in Austria, was presenting preliminary findings of a study being conducted across central Europe that also involves academics from Belgium, Finland and Germany.

Professor Klein pointed out that older people with dementia can remember wartime events clearly, but have long been reluctant to think about this phase of their lives because it brings back bad memories.

Those with PTSD may respond to the sound of thunder by hiding under the bed, because they mistakenly believe they have heard a bomb or gunfire, and were conditioned during childhood to take cover.

‘A common symptom of PTSD is the feeling of being at the mercy of others,’ Professor Klein said.

‘If they feel helpless then that is a trigger for episodes to reoccur.’

She urged nurses caring for this generation of people to improve their ‘biographical literacy’ so they can understand such behaviours and so deliver better care.

Nurse education programmes should ensure that students are aware of the difference between dementia and PTSD, she added, because the conditions are often confused.

The conference, which started on Sunday is running until tomorrow.

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