Older adults may be at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a serious fall, according to recent research from the department of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. The results, published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry, showed that 27 seniors out of a group of 100 had symptoms of PTSD after falling. The 100 seniors were all over the age of 65, and each had been admitted to the hospital after a fall. Falling is a serious issue for older adults. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than one in three seniors 65 and older falls each year. The NIH also reports that over 1.6 million seniors are hospitalized in the United States each year after a fall. The risk of falling continues to grow as seniors get older. Falls can result in serious injury, and are the leading cause of fractures in older adults. Hand, arm, ankle, pelvis, spine and hip fractures are the most common. Hip fractures in particular can be very difficult for older adults to recover from, and result in many adults losing their independence because of the loss of strength and mobility. Falling is a known source of anxiety for older adults, many of whom are afraid of falls even if they have never suffered one. However, this new study suggests that falling may have even more serious psychological implications for some seniors.
PTSD Symptoms, Personal History
The 100 patients who participated in the study were recruited during their stay in the hospital and evaluated for 17 symptoms of PTSD using the Post-Traumatic Stress Symptom Scale interview. The interview questions (developed by the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies) assess the three areas of PTSD symptoms: re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance symptoms and increased arousal symptoms. In addition to the PTSD-specific questions, the subjects were asked about their background, their mental health history, their marital status and their current health conditions. They were also asked for details about their falls, including the circumstances of the falls, how long it took for help to arrive and the nature of their injuries. The researchers found that women, those who had less education and those who were unemployed were more likely to have symptoms of PTSD. They also found that those with injuries to their chest or back were more likely to have PTSD symptoms. The fact that certain types of injuries were more likely than others to cause symptoms was unexpected, although the researchers recognize that this pattern may not hold as future research increases the patient sample size. Simply being in the hospital may also have exacerbated symptoms of PTSD. This can be a stressful experience for many people, but it is often exceptionally so for older adults who may take longer to recuperate and have fears that they will not be able to regain the same level of mobility and independence they had before their fall.
Increasing Understanding of PTSD
If future research confirms the findings of this study, it will help to expand our understanding of the types of experiences that can be truly traumatic and lead to symptoms of PTSD. While a fall may not seem like the type of event that could lead to a psychological disorder, these results show that PTSD may affect a wider range of people than previously realized. These results also emphasize how serious a fall can be for an older adult, highlighting both the fears that many seniors have about falling as well as the possible physical and psychological results.