A new Israeli study finds that negative views on aging are often passed down in families of Holocaust survivors with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The findings, published in the Journals of Gerontology: Series B, show that Holocaust survivors with PTSD view themselves as aging less successfully compared to survivors without PTSD as well as to older adults who weren’t exposed to the Holocaust.
The research is important, as individuals who maintain a positive view on aging tend to have a stronger sense of well-being, increased self-efficacy and the motivation to maintain a healthy lifestyle, all of which ultimately influence physical and biological aging. But exposure to trauma, directly or indirectly, may significantly impact these views.
According to the study, post-traumatic Holocaust survivors and their children perceived aging more negatively, were more focused on frailty, loneliness and the imminent threat of death. However, they could still account for some positive aspects of aging.
“This may be explained by the accumulation of life experience and wisdom, and the opportunity to share their insights with younger generations,” said Professor Amit Shrira, of the Interdisciplinary Department of Social Sciences at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.
“This is proof of the unique strengths of many survivors — even those who suffer from a high level of mental distress, but are not entirely overwhelmed by the aftereffects of the trauma.”
Although most survivors and their adult children manifest impressive resilience, negative views on aging may put them at greater risk for physical deterioration. Because of this, the study emphasizes the need to address such perceptions in interventions with survivors’ families.
The researchers believe that interventions could promote more complex, differentiated perceptions of aging by taking into account potential losses alongside the possibility of maintaining function, and even gaining new abilities, in old age. “Promoting such views on aging can increase the sense of self-efficacy and help in the preservation of physical health among survivors and their offspring,” said Shrira.
Most research on intergenerational transmission of trauma has focused on one generation, either the survivors themselves or their children (or grandchildren). In a 2016 study, Shrira found that the offspring of Holocaust survivors are especially anxious about aging and dying.
By evaluating both survivors and offspring in the new study, he able to correlate behaviors, perceptions, and feelings among parents and their offspring. This provided further evidence that negative views on aging were transmitted from post-traumatic parents to their children.
Source: Bar-Ilan University