BACKGROUND: Only a few population-based studies on the epidemiology of post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSDs) are available to date. Most of the existing studies are from the U.S.A. Against the background of World War II, the extent and long-term effects of war-related traumatic experiences in the German elderly population are of special interest. Nevertheless, population-based data on this topic are lacking to date.
METHODS: This study examines the occurrence of traumatic experiences and the prevalence rates of PTSD according to DSM-IV and of partial PTSD in a randomly selected sample of the German general population aged 60 years and over (N = 814) using self-rating instruments.
RESULTS: PTSD is apparent in 3.4%; when partial post-traumatic stress syndromes are included, a total of 7.2% of the aged population are involved. The most common individual symptoms resulting from war-induced trauma are avoidance of thoughts and feelings, sleep disturbances, distressing dreams and intrusive thoughts. The most frequently mentioned traumatic experiences of the generation examined in this study were war-related trauma experienced as children or in early adulthood during World War II. As a person's age increases, so does the prevalence of war-related traumatic experiences. There are some gender differences in traumatic experiences, but not in post-traumatic symptoms.
CONCLUSION: The results emphasize the importance of war-related traumatic experiences from World War II in the German elderly population and their impact on the prevalence of PTSD more than 60 years later.