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Cumulative trauma in adulthood can worsen health in later years

WASHINGTON -- Cumulative trauma during a person's lifetime can have an overall effect on health in one's later years, according to a study that examines the consequences of traumatic events on older adults' physical health. Also, traumas experienced in adulthood compared to traumas experienced in childhood appear to cause more damage to an older person's (65 and older) health, say researchers of a new study reported on in the December issue of Psychology and Aging published by the American Psychological Association (APA). Traumas are distinguished from other types of stressful life events by their seriousness, like experiencing a serious or life threatening illness, witnessing a violent crime or being in combat.

In a study of 1,518 older adults from a nationwide survey, researchers Neal Krause, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, Benjamin A. Shaw, Ph.D., of the University of Albany at SUNY and John Cairney, Ph.D., at Toronto University examined whether cumulative trauma across a person's lifetime affected a person's self-rated health, occurrence of acute and chronic conditions and functional disability. Three different ages in the study were examined: young old (65-74), old old (75-84) and oldest old (85 and older).

The results show that trauma occurring between 18 and 30 years and between 31 to 64 years had the greatest affect on the person's current health. Interestingly, say the authors, adversity encountered in adult life affected adult health more than adversity encountered in childhood. "Trauma could have the same adverse effects on children as adults, but the effects on children may dissipate by the time they reach adulthood, " said Krause.

The young old (age 65-74) seem to be affected the most by their traumatic events and this may be because of historical reasons, said Dr. Krause. This age group grew up after WWII during the Eisenhower years and experienced good economic times for most of their adulthood. "They placed a lot
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Contact: Pam Willenz
pwillenz@apa.org
American Psychological Association
12-Dec-2004


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