Cumulative exposure to traumatic events in older adults.

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OBJECTIVES: The present study examined the impact of cumulative trauma exposure on current posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptom severity in a nonclinical sample of adults in their 60s. The predictive utility of cumulative trauma exposure was compared to other known predictors of PTSD, including trauma severity, personality traits, social support, and event centrality. METHOD: Community-dwelling adults (n = 2515) from the crest of the Baby Boom generation completed the Traumatic Life Events Questionnaire, the PTSD Checklist, the NEO Personality Inventory, the Centrality of Event Scale, and rated their current social support. RESULTS: Cumulative trauma exposure predicted greater PTSD symptom severity in hierarchical regression analyses consistent with a dose-response model. Neuroticism and event centrality also emerged as robust predictors of PTSD symptom severity. In contrast, the severity of individuals' single most distressing life event, as measured by self-report ratings of the A1 PTSD diagnostic criterion, did not add explanatory variance to the model. Analyses concerning event categories revealed that cumulative exposure to childhood violence and adulthood physical assaults were most strongly associated with PTSD symptom severity in older adulthood. Moreover, cumulative self-oriented events accounted for a larger percentage of variance in symptom severity compared to events directed at others. CONCLUSION: Our findings suggest that the cumulative impact of exposure to traumatic events throughout the life course contributes significantly to posttraumatic stress in older adulthood above and beyond other known predictors of PTSD.





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Ogle, Christin M, David C Rubin and Ilene C Siegler (2014). Cumulative exposure to traumatic events in older adults. Aging Ment Health, 18(3). pp. 316–325. 10.1080/13607863.2013.832730 Retrieved from

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David C. Rubin

Juanita M. Kreps Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

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My main research interest has been in long-term memory, especially for complex (or "real-world") stimuli. This work includes the study of autobiographical memory and oral traditions, as well as prose. I have also studied memory as it is more commonly done in experimental psychology laboratories using lists. In addition to this purely behavioral research, which I plan to continue, I work on memory in clinical populations with the aid of a National Institute of Mental Health grant to study PTSD and on the underlying neural basis of memory the aid of a National Institute of Aging grant to study autobiographical memory using fMRI.

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