A randomized controlled trial of prolonged exposure therapy versus relaxation training for older veterans with military-related PTSD

J Anxiety Disord. 2019 May:64:45-54. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2019.02.003. Epub 2019 Feb 21.


Objective: Although prolonged exposure (PE) has strong support for treating posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there is little research on PE for older adults. Likewise, Relaxation Training (RT) has shown some benefit for PTSD, but has not been adequately tested in this population.

Method: This study represents the first randomized controlled trial of two active psychotherapies for PTSD among older adults. Male combat veterans (N = 87; mean age = 65 years) were randomly assigned to 12 sessions of PE (n = 41) or RT (n = 46). Clinician-administered and self-report assessments were conducted at pre-treatment, post-treatment, and six-month follow-up; self-reported symptoms were also measured at each treatment session.

Results: Multi-level modeling indicated that Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale scores significantly decreased from pre-treatment to follow-up, but the time by treatment condition interaction was not significant. Pre- to post-treatment change was large in PE and moderate in RT, but many gains were lost at follow-up. For self-reported PTSD symptoms, a significant time by treatment condition interaction emerged, suggesting that participants who received PE had both greater decreases in symptoms and a greater rebound in self-reported PTSD symptoms than those who received RT. Unlike PTSD symptoms, depression symptoms neither changed nor were moderated by treatment condition from pre-treatment to follow-up. For self-reported PTSD and depression symptoms assessed at each session, time significantly predicted symptom reductions across psychotherapy sessions.

Conclusions: PE and RT are well-tolerated, feasible, and effective for older adults, though treatment gains were not maintained at follow-up.

Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00539279.

Keywords: Aging; Cognitive-behavioral therapy; Combat veterans; Geriatric; Psychotherapy.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Depression / complications
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depression / therapy
  • Humans
  • Implosive Therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Relaxation Therapy*
  • Self Report
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / complications
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Veterans / psychology*

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00539279