Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 November 2019
Survivors of natural disasters are at risk for mental health sequela, including deficits in neurocognitive functioning. This study explores links between hurricane exposure and resulting psychiatric symptoms and deficits in cognitive processing, attention, learning, and memory.
Relocated Katrina survivors and demographically matched controls completed neurocognitive tests assessing processing speed (Trail Making Test, Part A), mental flexibility (Trail Making Test, Part B), sustained attention (Conner’s Continuous Performance Test), and learning and memory (Rey Auditory-Verbal Learning Test). PTSD (Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale) and depressive symptoms (BDI- II) were also measured.
Survivors had more PTSD and depression symptoms and weaker performance in cognitive processing, mental flexibility, and sustained attention, but not memory and learning compared to controls. When controlling for depression and PTSD symptoms (analysis of covariances), only CPT-II response time remained significantly different for survivors, so that sustained attention deficits were independent of emotional symptoms.
Survivors had more psychiatric symptoms and neurocognitive dysfunctions than controls in most assessed measures. Our study had mixed results in identifying cognitive deficits related to psychopathology. Results suggest that disaster survivors, even those without psychopathology, should be assessed for cognitive issues that may affect their ability to process post-disaster instructions and access assistance in recovery efforts.