Age differences in peritraumatic and posttraumatic processing using a trauma film paradigm
Epidemiological studies typically report lower prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in older adults. However, there is limited research investigating the mechanisms underlying these age differences in responses to psychological trauma. Theoretical models and research suggest that older adults may respond better after trauma than younger adults due to the more effective use of strategies to manage their emotions. The aim of the present study was to examine age differences in peritraumatic and posttraumatic processing, and the use of two emotion regulation strategies, rumination and positive reappraisal, using a trauma film paradigm. Participants (45 older adults, 45 younger adults) completed baseline measures of psychological functioning and emotion regulation, then watched a trauma film, during which their eye-gaze and skin conductance were recorded. Participants provided information about their peritraumatic response immediately after viewing the film. They completed an intrusive memory diary over the next seven days and follow-up measures of posttraumatic symptoms and emotion regulation. Results showed no age differences in levels of peritraumatic distress, or the use of rumination or positive reappraisal while viewing the film. Older adults reported less posttraumatic symptoms and distress associated with their intrusive memories than younger adults, despite comparable number of intrusive memories. Rumination was found to explain part of the variance in the relationship between age and posttraumatic symptoms. There were no age differences in the use of positive appraisal, and positive reappraisal was not associated with posttraumatic distress. The study’s findings also provide support for the theories of ageing in relation to trauma, demonstrating both age-related strengths and vulnerabilities in the context of trauma.