Posttraumatic stress disorder in older adults: an overview of characteristics and treatment approaches

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2012 Mar;27(3):230-9. doi: 10.1002/gps.2725. Epub 2011 Apr 28.


Objective: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common and disabling condition following a traumatic event. Despite its high prevalence rates, relatively little is known about the manifestation and course of the disorder in older adults. Moreover, there has been little evaluation of the efficacy of psychotherapeutic treatment approaches for older patients.

Design: This overview aims to summarize available data on the prevalence and symptoms of late-life PTSD and to review the current treatment approaches for older adults.

Results: The course and severity of PTSD symptoms in older adults depend on the time the trauma occurred (early versus late life). In the case of acute traumatization, lower prevalence rates and symptom severities are generally observed in older than in younger populations. In the case of early-life traumatization, a decline in PTSD symptom severity can be observed over the life course. Research on treatment approaches has produced promising results, indicating that disorder-specific interventions (i.e., trauma confrontation and cognitive restructuring) can be effectively combined with an age-specific narrative life-review approach.

Conclusion: Given the limited empirical evidence, caution is warranted in generalizing the reported findings. Nevertheless, it is possible to draw a number of conclusions concerning the characteristics and treatment of PTSD in older adults. Further research is needed to better understand the various presentations of PTSD in late life and to validate and improve the effectiveness of available treatment approaches.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Humans
  • Narration
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy*