Childhood adversity and psychosocial adjustment in old age

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2006 Apr;14(4):307-15. doi: 10.1097/01.JGP.0000196637.95869.d9.


Objective: The objective of this study was to test the hypothesis that higher level of childhood adversity is associated with lower level of psychosocial adjustment in old age.

Method: Participants are 253 older persons (mean age: 79.8, standard deviation: 2.1; 73.9% women) from the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a clinicopathologic study of common chronic conditions of old age. Childhood adversity was assessed with a 16-item measure based on portions of the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire and other inventories. Psychosocial adjustment was assessed with multiple measures of neuroticism (i.e., proneness to negative emotions) and social engagement.

Results: Based in part on a factor analysis, composite measures of total adversity, emotional neglect, parental intimidation, parental violence, family turmoil, and financial need were developed. In a series of linear regression models adjusted for age, sex, own education, and parental education, the composite measure of childhood adversity was associated with all facets of neuroticism and accounted for more than 13% of the variance in the composite neuroticism measure. Emotional neglect and parental intimidation had the strongest associations with neuroticism. Childhood adversity was not related to frequency of participation in social activities, but more adversity was associated with having a smaller network (accounting for 3% of the variance) and feeling more emotionally isolated (accounting for 7% of the variance).

Conclusion: Childhood adversity is associated with less adaptive psychosocial functioning in old age.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parenting
  • Parents
  • Personality Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Personality Disorders / etiology*
  • Psychology
  • Social Adjustment
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires