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PTSD in middle-aged women associated with worse cognitive function, says study
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Postpartum psychiatric disorders increase risk for suicide

Generally associated with older individuals, cognitive disorders are known to significantly impair one’s ability to function normally in society. Similar to other mental disorders, cognitive disorders are caused by a variety of factors including genetics, hormonal imbalance and substance abuse. Some common cognitive problems are developmental disorders, amnesia and substance-induced cognitive impairment.

Mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have often been linked with decline in mental sharpness and cognitive ability. Now, a new study suggests that PTSD in middle-aged women is linked with worse cognitive functioning and those with comorbid depression face higher risk of cognitive decline. The study findings were published in the journal Depression and Anxiety on Jan. 10, 2017.

The study comprised over 14,000 middle-aged women from the Nurses’ Health Study II, one of the largest investigation into the risk factors for major chronic diseases in women. The research included American nurses recruited in 1989 aged 25 to 42 years at baseline and 95 percent of them were white. Participants’ lifetime trauma exposure, PTSD symptoms and past-week depressive symptoms were measured in 2008 and cognitive functioning was measured in 2014-2016 using CogState Brief Battery (CBB), a rapid and reliable screening assessment tool, with the average age of participants ranging from 49 to 69 years. During the tests, women who had not experienced trauma were compared to women with PTSD symptoms.

As per the study, with respect to learning and working memory, psychomotor speed and attention, and overall cognition, women with probable PTSD symptoms performed worse than those without PTSD symptoms. Among those worse affected were women who suffered from depression in addition to PTSD.

“We found the strongest associations were observed along women with elevated PTSD and depressive symptoms, and this may suggest that the comorbidity phenotype of concurrent PTSD and depression may be particularly associated with worse cognitive function,” said Jennifer A. Sumner of Columbia University Medical Center, New York City, who is also the study’s first author. She said that a range of factors associated with PTSD such as sleep disturbances, obesity, and physical inactivity could also play a role in cognitive decline.

In addition, each year of increasing age was related to significantly worse cognitive performance. According to Sumner, severe PTSD symptoms corresponded with greater deficits in learning and working memory. “We found that the mean difference for the highest level of PTSD symptoms was equivalent to that of nearly four years of aging, so it was a sizable effect that we’re observing,” she said.

PTSD and substance abuse

The recent study adds to the growing pool of research that suggests association of mental disorders with worse cognitive functions over the course of one’s life. While the study highlights a link between mental illness and cognitive decline, PTSD has long been associated with substance abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), PTSD is common among people with substance use disorder. As per estimates, as many as 80 percent women seeking treatment for drug abuse report lifetime history of physical assault.

One of the most emotionally devastating mental disorders, PTSD causes its victims to experience fear, shock, anger and nervousness, and keeps one from living a normal life. Many of those suffering from PTSD often resort to drugs and alcohol to ease their pain or gain some control over their lives. With an increased intake of drug or alcohol, an individual becomes chemically dependent on the addictive substance and needs more of it to sustain those effects.

Rather than reducing the symptoms, drugs and alcohol worsen one’s fear and anxiety. Prolonged use of addictive substances eventually rewires the brain and an individual with PTSD becomes addicted. The addictive substance often leads to substance use disorder (SUD). To undo the damage caused by both the disorders, it is crucial to treat both PTSD and substance addiction simultaneously.

When someone experiences a mental illness and SUD simultaneously, it is referred to as dual diagnosis. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about a third of all people experiencing mental disorders and about half of those living with mental illnesses also experience substance abuse.

Over the past decade, researchers have been increasingly aware of the significant relationship between trauma and substance use disorders among women. Research also points out that a majority of women with PTSD and SUD were often victims of childhood abuse and were vulnerable to repeated trauma in their adult lives. As compared to women with just one of these disorders, those with both the disorders appeared to have a severe clinical profile and suffered from other psychiatric disorders and interpersonal deficits.

As symptoms of dual diagnosis differ from person to person, treatment cannot be the same for everyone. However, the most common method of treating someone with dual diagnosis is integrated intervention at a certified dual diagnosis treatment facility.

Road to recovery

Women who have been through trauma have residual anxiety that promotes various emotionally driven impulses. At Sovereign Health, we offer our women patients the opportunity to rebuild their lives in the strongest way possible. Our women’s treatment center offers various treatments for mental health issues and co-occurring disorders.

A female-only residential rehab facility, our dual diagnosis treatment Arizona facility offers highest quality care for drug and alcohol addiction, mental health disorders and co-occurring conditions for all our women patients. Rehab Arizona uses a comprehensive behavioral health treatment program called rebuilding our acceptance & resilience (ROAR) to offer treatment programs for drug and alcohol addiction, mental health disorders and co-occurring conditions.

For more information on dual diagnosis residential treatment and dual diagnosis treatment programs offered at our facilities, call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-598-5661. Chat online with our trained counselors who can help you find the best dual diagnosis residential treatment programs and top rated dual diagnosis treatment centers near you.

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