Study: Elderly exposed to terror more susceptible than youth

Elderly "much more sensitive and have difficulty coping with events that continue for longer periods of time," says University of Haifa study.

July 8, 2015 09:24
2 minute read.
An elderly woman suffers from PTSD. [illustrative]

An elderly woman. [illustrative]. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Elderly residents of the south who were exposed to terrorist rockets and missiles are five times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder than young people, according to a first-ever University of Haifa study on the age factor in PTSD and terror.

Gerontologist Dr. Yuval Palgi found that people aged 65 and older living in Sderot and nearby settlements during Operation Protective Edge exactly a year ago were much more likely to suffer PTSD symptoms. These include re-experiencing the traumatic event, avoidance of reminders of the trauma, increased anxiety and emotional arousal and sleeping difficulty.

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“Elderly people are able to cope with one-time traumatic events and may even be more resistant to trauma than young people. But they are much more sensitive and have difficulty coping with events that continue for longer periods of time.” They tend difficulty balancing their lives due to the lack of psychological resources and social support, Palgi explained. He said it was the first time that older people were the focus of trauma research.

Seniors who are limited in their mobility and can’t easily reach bomb shelters and other protected spaces are liable to feel more endangered than younger people who can manage to reach safe places within 15 seconds of the rocket firing. Palgi studied with Prof. Marc Gelkopf of the university’s community mental health department and Dr. Roni Berger of Ben-Gurion University’s emergency medicine department a total of 343 residents – 169 men and 174 women – from the Sderot area not far from Gaza. They were divided among four age groups: 18 to 30, 31 to 49, 50 to 64 and 65 and above. They answered questionnaires and were interviewed. An average of five to 10 rockets fell daily in the area before and during the study.

The researchers found that the older the group, the more likely they were to suffer from PTSD symptoms. For example, those aged 31 to 49 were three times more likely to have symptoms, while those 50 to 64 were four times more likely to have them than the youngest group.

They also looked into the possibility that being exposed to trauma in the past raised their risk of suffering from symptoms again. The results showed that those exposed once in the past to the traumatic events suffered more, but – surprisingly -- those who were exposed to more than one event was more resistant than first timers. This was even more true in men than in women.

Palgi noted that since age and trauma has not been studied seriously before, the social welfare authorities in areas prone to terror and war must be specially alert to the needs of the elderly and allocate additional resources to help them.

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