HEALTH / WELL-BEING

Combat Exposure in Early Adulthood Interacts with Recent Stressors to Predict PTSD in Aging Male Veterans

Article

This article explores how exposure to combat in early adulthood may contribute to the development of PTSD as the individual ages.

Abstract

Purpose of the study: Combat is a risk factor for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); however, less is known about how exposure to combat in early adulthood may contribute to the development of PTSD as the individual ages. Prior exposure to trauma may “sensitize” people to respond more intensely to subsequent stressors. Further, aging initiates new challenges that may undermine previous coping strategies. Over the life course combat veterans may be more reactive to new stressors and thus be more vulnerable to PTSD. Design and Methods: This study draws on the two waves of the National Comorbidity Survey (NCS-1) and NCS-2 (10-year follow-up). Participants were male (noncombat N = 620 and combat N = 107) and 50–65 years of age at Wave-2. At baseline, participants were assessed for exposure to wartime combat, number of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) diagnoses in the past year, and life-time PTSD. At follow-up, PTSD occurring between waves was determined. A measure of recent life stressors was also obtained. Results: Using logistic regression analyses, combat predicted PTSD at follow-up (controlling for baseline demographics, number of DSM diagnoses in the past year, life-time PTSD). Recent life stressors were also associated with PTSD. Importantly, the effect of combat on PTSD was significant at high levels, but not low levels, of recent life stress. Implications: Veterans who have experienced combat may be more reactive to new stressors, and in turn be more vulnerable to PTSD. Combat veterans should be regularly assessed for current stressors and PTSD.

Full Reference

 Natalie Sachs-Ericsson, Thomas E. Joiner, Jesse R. Cougle, Ian H. Stanley, Julia L. Sheffler. 2016. Combat Exposure in Early Adulthood Interacts with Recent Stressors to Predict PTSD in Aging Male Veterans. The Gerontologist, 56:1, 82-91.