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    Trauma Linked to Cognitive Decline in Adults



    Summary: Recent trauma suffered during adulthood has a greater impact on aspects of cognitive functioning that trauma suffered during childhood. However, experiencing the death of a parent or parental divorce during childhood was associated with an increase in cognitive decline. People who reported experiencing traumatic events showed greater overall declines in executive function and episodic memory during later life than those who had no experience of adverse events. This was especially true for those who experienced trauma during adulthood than those who experienced trauma as children.

    Source: Journal of Traumatic Stress.

    A recent study from Brandeis University reported that individuals who suffer trauma in childhood and early adulthood may experience a greater amount of cognitive decline as they grow in age than individuals who haven’t experienced trauma.

    The research also reported that recent trauma suffered in adulthood has a greater impact on some aspects of cognitive functioning than trauma suffered in childhood.

    The researchers analysed roughly 2,500 adults of ages 28 to 84, between 2004 and 2013. The subjects were part of the Midlife Development in the U.S. (MIDUS) study, a national longitudinal study of health and well-being during adulthood.

    The subjects were provided a list of 12 potentially traumatic events and were enquired if they’d experienced any, and how negatively they were affected.

    The traumatic events on the list included divorce or death of a parent during childhood, emotional or physical abuse, parents with alcohol or drug addiction, flood or natural disaster, combat experience and losing a home to fire. For any of these to be considered traumatic, the subjects needed to specify the severe emotional distress they went through.

    Subjects were also enquired on a series of questions that examined their cognitive abilities in two areas: executive functioning (EF) and episodic memory (EM). EF is related to such skills as focusing attention, planning, problem-solving, and multitasking. The test of EM involved remembering recently acquired information.

    The researchers compared the results of individuals who said they had experienced trauma with those who indicated they hadn’t and analysed their EM and EF over the course of nine years.

    Those subjects who said they had lived through traumatic events showed greater declines in both EF and EM.

    The researchers also looked at whether recent traumatic experience or the trauma experienced in early life had a greater effect on cognition. The findings of the study reveals that individuals who suffer trauma later in life had a greater decline in EF than individuals whose first traumatic event took place earlier in life.

    Published: Journal of Traumatic Stress.

    Contact: Margie Lachman Professor of Psychology, Brandeis University.

    Details: Image source IStock


    Hi, I’m Aarti, My Psychoanalytical approach towards my clients is to empower them to better their lives through improving their relationship with themselves. I believe shame and guilt is a common barrier to change. I aim to guide my clients through re authoring their narratives where shame, guilt, and other problems have less power and take up less space.

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