Background: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder whose symptoms include re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyperarousal after a particularly intense event. In view of the aging of the population, increased clinical knowledge is required for better understanding of PTSD in the elderly. Extending previous research in this field in adults and children, the aim of our study was to assess the utility of peri-traumatic dissociation and distress as a predictor of PTSD in the elderly.
Methods: A prospective longitudinal study was conducted in a consecutive cohort of subjects aged 65 years and over admitted to emergency departments after a physical assault or a road traffic accident. Peri-traumatic responses of distress and of dissociation were measured. One, 6, and 12 months after trauma exposure, PTSD symptoms and diagnosis were assessed using both a dimensional and a semistructured interview.
Results: Thirty-nine male and female participants with an average age of 72.4 years were recruited. Mixed model regression analyses did not detect a significant effect of age, sex, nor time. Significant associations were detected between peri-traumatic distress and the self-report PTSD Checklist (p = 0.008), as well as the Clinician-administered PTSD scale (p = 0.03). No association was detected between peri-traumatic dissociation and PTSD.
Conclusions: Peri-traumatic distress predicts PTSD symptoms and diagnosis in the elderly, thereby suggesting its systematic evaluation at the emergency department would be a worthwhile thing to do.