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Open Access Research article

Impaired psychological recovery in the elderly after the Niigata-Chuetsu Earthquake in Japan:a population-based study

Shin-ichi Toyabe1*, Toshiki Shioiri2, Hideki Kuwabara2, Taroh Endoh2, Naohito Tanabe3, Toshiyuki Someya2 and Kouhei Akazawa1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medical Informatics, Niigata University Medical and Dental Hospital, Asahimachi-Dori 1, Niigata 951–8520, Japan

2 Department of Psychiatry, Niigata University Graduate School of Medical and Dental Sciences, Asahimachi-Dori 1, Niigata 951–8510, Japan

3 Department of Health Promotion, Niigata University Graduate School of Medical and Dental Sciences, Asahimachi-Dori, Niigata 951–8510, Japan

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BMC Public Health 2006, 6:230  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-6-230

Published: 14 September 2006

Abstract

Background

An earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale struck the Niigata-Chuetsu region of Japan at 5.56 P.M. on the 23rd of October, 2004. The earthquake was followed by sustained occurrence of numerous aftershocks, which delayed reconstruction of community lifelines. Even one year after the earthquake, 9,160 people were living in temporary housing. Such a devastating earthquake and life after the earthquake in an unfamiliar environment should cause psychological distress, especially among the elderly.

Methods

Psychological distress was measured using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) in 2,083 subjects (69% response rate) who were living in transient housing five months after the earthquake. GHQ-12 was scored using the original method, Likert scoring and corrected method. The subjects were asked to assess their psychological status before the earthquake, their psychological status at the most stressful time after the earthquake and their psychological status at five months after the earthquake. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis was used to reveal the factor structure of GHQ12. Multiple regression analysis was performed to analyze the relationship between various background factors and GHQ-12 score and its subscale.

Results

GHQ-12 scores were significantly elevated at the most stressful time and they were significantly high even at five months after the earthquake. Factor analysis revealed that a model consisting of two factors (social dysfunction and dysphoria) using corrected GHQ scoring showed a high level of goodness-of-fit. Multiple regression analysis revealed that age of subjects affected GHQ-12 scores. GHQ-12 score as well as its factor 'social dysfunction' scale were increased with increasing age of subjects at five months after the earthquake.

Conclusion

Impaired psychological recovery was observed even at five months after the Niigata-Chuetsu Earthquake in the elderly. The elderly were more affected by matters relating to coping with daily problems.