HEALTH / WELL-BEING

From Late-Onset Stress Symptomatology to Later-Adulthood Trauma Reengagement in Aging Combat Veterans: Taking a Broader View

Article

This article examines how many older combat Veterans confront and rework their wartime memories in an effort to find meaning and build coherence. Through reminiscence, life review, and wrestling with issues such as integrity versus despair, they intentionally reengage with experiences they avoided or managed successfully earlier in life, perhaps without resolution or integration.

Abstract

About a decade ago we proposed the notion of late-onset stress symptomatology, to characterize the later-life emergence of symptoms related to early-life warzone trauma among aging combat Veterans. We hypothesized that aging-related challenges (role transition and loss, death of family members and friends, physical and cognitive decline) might lead to increased reminiscence, and possibly distress, among Veterans who had previously dealt successfully with earlier traumatic events. Recently, we have reexamined our earlier ideas, to better reflect our developing understanding of this phenomenon, and to incorporate more contemporary perspectives on posttraumatic growth and resilience. As a result, we have broadened our conceptualization to later-adulthood trauma reengagement (LATR). We suggest that in later life many combat Veterans confront and rework their wartime memories in an effort to find meaning and build coherence. Through reminiscence, life review, and wrestling with issues such as integrity versus despair, they intentionally reengage with experiences they avoided or managed successfully earlier in life, perhaps without resolution or integration. This article links LATR to classic gerontologic notions, and elaborates how the LATR process can lead positively to personal growth or negatively to increased symptomatology. We also address the role of preventive intervention in enhancing positive outcomes for Veterans who reengage with their wartime memories in later life.

Full Reference

Eve H. Davison, Anica Pless Kaiser, Avron Spiro, III, Jennifer Moye, Lynda A. King, Daniel W. King. 2016. From Late-Onset Stress Symptomatology to Later-Adulthood Trauma Reengagement in Aging Combat Veterans: Taking a Broader View. The Gerontologist. 56:1, 14-21.