Research Suggests Link Between PTSD and Accelerated Aging

A new study by researchers at the UCSD School of Medicine and the VA San Diego Healthcare System implies that those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder have a greater risk of accelerated aging.

In its study, the team looked at a wide range of age-related biological indicators and signs of early occurrence for diseases typically associated with old age.

“We reviewed a number of published papers on PTSD and aging,” Dr. Dilip V. Jeste, senior author of the study and director of the Center on Healthy Aging and Senior Care at UCSD, said. “The review found multiple lines of evidence connecting PTSD with age-related biological markers or health conditions.” 

According to Jeste, those afflicted with PTSD tended to have higher levels of chemicals associated with aging. As a result, PTSD sufferers are more susceptible to adverse health conditions, like dementia, heart disease and diabetes.

Moreover, the results of the study have wider implications in that they may change how doctors and medical researchers approach PTSD care and treatment in the future.

“The results suggest that PTSD is not merely a mental illness but [something that] also affects physical health,” Jeste explained to the UCSD Guardian. “When working with veterans or others with PTSD, doctors and medical researchers need to be alert to the physical systemic issues and make certain their patients’ overall health is attended to and the individuals receive appropriate medical and psychological treatments.”

Jeste also explained how different medical approaches are needed in treating PTSD in light of this new study. 

“What the persons with PTSD need is not just psychological treatment but a combined medical-psychiatric approach,” Jeste said. “We should not only focus on mental symptoms and flashbacks but make sure that the PTSD sufferers’ physical health is also attended to properly.”

However further research is still needed to figure out the underlying link between PTSD and accelerated aging.

“[Our research] shows an association of PTSD with rapid aging but does not prove causation,” Jeste said. “We plan to conduct prospective, longitudinal studies to determine if and how PTSD causes rapid aging.”

Jeste also explained how his team will seek to learn what factors are associated with rapid aging, such as smoking, substance use, depression and poor healthcare.

“We will plan to follow people with and without PTSD over several years to see what changes occur in their age-associated biological markers and physical illnesses and also examine mortality rate,” Jeste said.