Poor physical and mental health in older adults linked to history of childhood abuse
Summary: Older people who were physically abused as children are much more likely to develop chronic pain and other chronic health problems. Additionally, they are also three times more likely to develop mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Source: University of Toronto
According to a recently published study by researchers at the University of Toronto, older adults who were physically abused as children were much more likely to develop chronic pain and chronic physical illnesses later in life.
They were also twice as likely to develop depression and anxiety disorders as those without this early trauma.
“Unfortunately, our results suggest that the traumatic experience of physical abuse during childhood can influence both physical and mental health decades later. This also underscores the importance of valuing negative childhood experiences. in patients of all ages, including older adults,” said Anna Buhrmann, who began this research for her undergraduate thesis in the Bachelor of Arts and Science program at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario and is a research assistant at the Institute of Life Course & Aging at the University of Toronto.
Physical illnesses that developed included diabetes, cancer, migraines, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The links between childhood maltreatment and poor physical and mental health persisted even after controlling for income, education, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and other causes of poor health.
“Health professionals serving older people need to be aware that it is never too late to refer people to counseling services. A promising intervention, cognitive behavioral therapy [CBT]has been tested and shown to be effective in reducing post-traumatic stress disorder and depressive and anxiety symptoms in survivors of childhood abuse,” said co-author Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson, who supervised Buhrmann’s thesis research.
Fuller-Thomson is Director of the Institute of Life Course & Aging at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto.
It was not possible for the cross-sectional study to determine the specific pathways through which being physically abused in childhood affects a person’s health later in life. Current studies suggest that physical abuse during childhood leads to several physiological changes, including the dysregulation of systems that regulate the body’s response to stress.
Future prospective research on disruptions to these systems that are already linked to several physical and mental illnesses, such as abnormal cortisol levels, could help shed light on the experiences of victims of childhood abuse.
Data for this study were drawn from a representative sample of adults aged 60 and over in the Canadian province of British Columbia. It compared 409 older people who said they had been physically abused as children with 4,659 of their peers who said they had not been physically abused as children. Data are from the Canadian Community Health Survey.
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Source: University of Toronto
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“Poor physical and mental health in older adults decades after experiencing childhood physical abuse” by Anna S. Buhrmann et al. Aging and Health Research
Poor physical and mental health in older adults decades after experiencing physical abuse as children
A burgeoning literature indicates that negative childhood experiences (ACE) are associated with poorer adult health outcomes. To date, most research has not focused on outcomes in Canadian seniors.
The objectives of the present study were to identify the prevalence and adjusted odds of 2 mental health problems and 7 physical health problems among survivors of childhood physical abuse (CPA) aged 60 years and older (not = 409) compared to their peers who had not experienced physical violence (not = 4659). Data were drawn from a representative sample of British Columbia seniors as part of the Canadian Community Health Survey. Logistic regression analyzes controlled for gender, race, age, immigration status, marital status, education, income, smoking, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption and the number of other ACEs.
For anxiety, depression, and COPD, APC survivors had an adjusted odds ratio more than twice that of their peers (ORanxiety = 2.22; 95% CI = 1.46, 3.38; WHEREthe Depression = 2.17; 95% CI = 1.57, 3.01; WHERECOPD = 2.03; 95% CI = 1.40, 2.94). For CPA survivors, adjusted odds ratios were more than 50% higher for cancer (ORcancer = 1.71; 95% CI = 1.31, 2.24), migraine (ORmigraine = 1.67; 95% CI = 1.15, 2.45) and disabling chronic pain (ORpain = 1.58; 95% CI = 1.22; 2.03) and 33% higher for arthritis (ORarthritis = 1.33; 95% CI = 1.05, 1.69). PCA was not significantly associated with either heart disease (p = 0.15) or diabetes (p = 0.17).
The association between CPA and 2 mental health problems and 5 physical health problems remained significant, even after controlling for sociodemographic characteristics, health behaviors and other ACEs. Further research is needed to investigate the potential pathways by which physical abuse in childhood is linked to a wide range of health problems later in life.