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PTSD linked with accelerated cognitive decline in middle-aged women

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Middle-aged women with symptoms of PTSD may face faster cognitive decline than women without such symptoms, according to a study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Researchers examined cognitive function data over a five-year period from more than 12,000 middle-aged women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study II who had experienced trauma. The scientists found that women with more PTSD symptoms had greater declines in learning and working memory and psychomotor speed and attention.

“Our findings were consistent with those of previous cross-sectional studies among persons exposed to extreme traumas, including military combat, the Holocaust, and childhood sexual abuse,” the researchers wrote. “These studies have generally found that persons with PTSD have lower cognitive function than those without PTSD.”

Co-author Jiaxuan (Jessie) Liu, a PhD candidate in epidemiology, said in a July 12, 2022, Healio article, “Our findings suggest that earlier cognitive screening may be recommended for women who ever experienced severe PTSD symptoms, as they may encounter a faster cognitive decline during aging and are predisposed to a higher risk of dementia. Our findings also highlight the importance of PTSD prevention and treatment across the lifespan.”

First author of the study was Andrea Roberts, senior research scientist in the Department of Environmental Health. Other Harvard Chan School co-authors Rebecca Lawn, Shaili Jha, Eric RimmLaura KubzanskyLori Chibnik, and Karestan Koenen.

Read the Healio article: Middle-aged women with PTSD experience accelerated cognitive decline

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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