Are the elderly more vulnerable to psychological impact of natural disaster? A population-based survey of adult survivors of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake

BMC Public Health. 2010 Mar 30:10:172. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-10-172.


Background: The association between ages and psychological impact of natural disasters has not been well characterized. A population-based study was conducted 15 months after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake to assess whether elderly survivors were more likely to develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and general psychiatric morbidity.

Methods: A population-based survey of 327 survivors (152 elders, 175 younger adults) was conducted in severely affected areas by the earthquake, using a multi-stage systematic sampling design.

Results: Compared with the younger adult survivors, the elderly were more likely to have symptoms of PTSD (22.5% vs. 8.0%, p = 0.001) and general psychiatric morbidity (42.0% vs. 25.4%, p = 0.003). Risk factors, such as being elderly, having been in serious danger, having lost family members, and having felt guilt concerning one's death or injury were significantly associated with developing PTSD; being elderly, having family members or friends seriously injured, and having felt guilt concerning one's death or injury were significantly associated with developing general psychiatric morbidity. Utilization of mental health services is strongly associated with the decreased risk for developing both of the symptoms.

Conclusion: Compared with the younger adults, the elderly survivors were more likely to develop PTSD and general psychiatric morbidity. More mental health services should be distributed to the elderly and groups at particular risk, to ensure their smooth mental health reconstruction after the earthquake.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • China / epidemiology
  • Disasters*
  • Earthquakes*
  • Female
  • Health Services for the Aged / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Population Surveillance*
  • Prevalence
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • Survivors / psychology*
  • Survivors / statistics & numerical data
  • Vulnerable Populations / psychology*
  • Vulnerable Populations / statistics & numerical data