Trauma in youth linked to poor health in old age


child with traumaImage © kieferpix | iStock

A new study by UC San Francisco reveals that traumatic experiences in childhood may lead to long-term health issues in old age

Researchers at UC San Francisco have made a groundbreaking discovery by linking adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) to lifelong health consequences. 

This is important considering how economic stress and the pandemic has already inflated the mental health crisis on young people such as students.

Trauma in youth has life long consequences 

The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, reveals that older adults who experienced violence or stress in their youth were more likely to face physical and cognitive impairments in their senior years.

Impact of childhood trauma

The study found that individuals who experienced violence during childhood were 40% more likely to have mobility impairments and 80% more likely to struggle with daily activities. 

Similarly, those from unhappy families had a 40% higher chance of mild cognitive impairment later in life.

The research highlights the long-lasting ramifications of early life stressful experiences, affecting people even in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond.

Addressing the widespread issue of trauma

Nearly 60% of adults in the U.S. have encountered adverse childhood experiences, including violence, illness, financial stress, and separation from parents, which can negatively impact their sense of safety and stability. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) links ACEs to chronic physical and mental health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune disease, and depression.

However, there is a lack of research on the entire lifespan implications of ACEs, despite older adults bearing the most significant health burdens.

Significance of stressful experiences in children

California became the first state to mandate commercial insurance coverage for screening early stressful experiences in children and adults in 2021, with eight other states considering similar legislation. 

The study’s findings emphasise the importance of recognising childhood trauma early on to identify and support adults who may benefit from screening and prevention strategies to address ageing-associated functional decline.

Data on distressing encounters in youth from older adults

The study drew data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, analysing almost 3,400 participants aged 50 to 97, with slightly more than half being female. 

The participants lived in community settings and underwent tests to evaluate balance, walking, cognition, and memory, along with their ability to perform daily activities. 

Approximately 44% of participants reported experiencing at least one ACE during ages 6 to 16, with 20% reporting multiple adverse childhood experiences.

This research sheds light on the need for greater awareness and support for individuals who experienced trauma in their youth. Addressing childhood trauma early on may improve the quality of life for older adults and reduce the burden of health conditions in later years.

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