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Open Access Research article

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

Zhaobao Jia1, Wenhua Tian1*, Weizhi Liu2, Yang Cao3, Jin Yan2 and Zhisheng Shun4

Author affiliations

1 Faculty of Health Service, Second Military Medical University, Shanghai, China

2 Department of Psychology, Second Military Medical University, Shanghai, China

3 Department of Health Statistics, Second Military Medical University, Shanghai, China

4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, China

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Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2010, 10:172  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-172

Published: 30 March 2010

Abstract

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.