Medical experts refer to the phenomenon of overnight aging as Marie Antoinette Syndrome. However, this bizarre condition only scratches the surface of chronic psychological stress and its relationship with accelerated aging.

The Biological Science Behind PTSD And Aging

Chronic psychological stress leading to mental disorders is often linked to the early onset of age-related disease or premature death. But what about age affecting post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Let's explore the science behind these concepts.

Transcriptional Aging and PTSD

A 2021 study followed 324 individuals who served as responders to the World Trade Center attack and examined their RNA-Seq data. Mental health professionals concluded that the responders diagnosed with PTSD had accelerated methylation or transcriptional aging (p = 0.0077). In simpler words, an unresolved traumatic event can result in a decline in cellular function.

Telomere Erosion and PTSD

Another 2018 study supports this concept. It examined the cross-sectional association of PTSD with telomere length in women exposed to traumatic events common in civilian life. The conclusion indicated that the subjects who faced traumas have shorter telomere length, meaning their cells age more rapidly than those without the mental health disorder.

The Psychological Science Behind PTSD And Aging

While there is still more research to be done on the aggravating effect of psychological trauma on aging and cognitive effects, there are existing studies that already prove a connection. In these cases, the common subjects are military veterans.

Some practices, encounters, and unfortunate circumstances that happen as we age can also amplify PTSD symptoms. These risk factors include:

  • Alcohol dependence
  • Substance abuse
  • Work-related stress
  • Lack of exercise
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Broken friendships
  • Heartbreak from former relationships
  • Toxic relationships
  • Excessive exposure to media
  • Sexual assault

The same can be said for major life changes like the following:

  • Physical changes that come with aging - As physical strength declines with age, safety and self-care may become more of a concern.
  • Hormonal changes that come with age - As we become older, we also undergo hormonal changes that may affect our bodies.
  • Retirement - Flashbacks of bad memories and childhood trauma can frequently come with increased downtime.
  • Grief and loss - The death of a loved one can result in the loss of a significant support network and can put one through heightened emotions.
  • Medical conditions - New diagnoses, mental illnesses, and hospitalizations can intensify the feeling of being vulnerable as well as symptoms of PTSD. For instance, the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases is directly related to PTSD.
  • Changes in the living situation - Moving to a new town or home or changes in routine can disturb one's idea of safety and security.
  • Cognitive decline - There is evidence that Alzheimer's disease, dementia, and PTSD can aggravate each other's symptoms.

The evidence above further establishes scientific findings that there is a great correlation between physical health and mental health. Whichever comes first, the manifestations should be addressed with proper treatment approaches.

Specifically for posttraumatic stress disorder, evidence-based treatments like exposure therapy and cognitive processing therapy can be efficient. These treatments can help older adults struggling with PTSD and younger adults aiming to overcome traumatic experiences and go through the process of normal aging.

If you're looking for a trusted trauma psychiatrist for comprehensive mental health treatment, reach out to Luminous Vitality Behavioral Health. We provide geriatric psychiatry services in the form of telehealth and in-person consultations. Book an appointment with us today!

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