Childhood Trauma and PTSD Symptoms Increase the Risk of Cognitive Impairment in a Sample of Former Indentured Child Laborers in Old Age

Burri, Andrea; Maercker, Andreas; Krammer, Sandy; Simmen-Janevska, Keti
February 2013
PLoS ONE;Feb2013, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p1
Academic Journal
A growing body of evidence suggests a link between early childhood trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and higher risk for dementia in old age. The aim of the present study was to investigate the association between childhood trauma exposure, PTSD and neurocognitive function in a unique cohort of former indentured Swiss child laborers in their late adulthood. To the best of our knowledge this is the first study ever conducted on former indentured child laborers and the first to investigate the relationship between childhood versus adulthood trauma and cognitive function. According to PTSD symptoms and whether they experienced childhood trauma (CT) or adulthood trauma (AT), participants (n = 96) were categorized as belonging to one of four groups: CT/PTSD+, CT/PTSD-, AT/PTSD+, AT/PTSD-. Information on cognitive function was assessed using the Structured Interview for Diagnosis of Dementia of Alzheimer Type, Multi-infarct Dementia and Dementia of other Etiology according to ICD-10 and DSM-III-R, the Mini-Mental State Examination, and a vocabulary test. Depressive symptoms were investigated as a potential mediator for neurocognitive functioning. Individuals screening positively for PTSD symptoms performed worse on all cognitive tasks compared to healthy individuals, independent of whether they reported childhood or adulthood adversity. When controlling for depressive symptoms, the relationship between PTSD symptoms and poor cognitive function became stronger. Overall, results tentatively indicate that PTSD is accompanied by cognitive deficits which appear to be independent of earlier childhood adversity. Our findings suggest that cognitive deficits in old age may be partly a consequence of PTSD or at least be aggravated by it. However, several study limitations need to considered. Consideration of cognitive deficits when treating PTSD patients and victims of lifespan trauma (even without a diagnosis of a psychiatric condition) is crucial. Furthermore, early intervention may prevent long-term deficits in memory function and development of dementia in adulthood.


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