The wide body of research on early life stress (ELS) suggests that trauma, maltreatment, and events that occur in childhood and result in stress can have long-term consequences. Studies have linked abuse, neglect, and other negative conditions in childhood to future psychological and physical impairments in some samples. However, environment, timing of negative events, and other factors all influence the eventual outcome.
Understanding how specific childhood ELS affects health in later life could provide a window of opportunity for treatment for the most vulnerable segments of the population. Therefore, Hanna Alastalo of the Department of Chronic Disease Prevention at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland recently led a study examining the physical and psychological health of older individuals who had experienced periods of separation from their parents during childhood. For her study, Alastalo looked at data from over 1,800 adults born between 1934 and 1944. She assessed how parental separation during WWII affected their functioning based on data gathered from 2001 through 2004.
The results revealed that men who were separated from their parents during childhood had higher levels of ELS than women and lower levels of physical and psychological functioning. Alastalo also noticed that the longer the period of separation, the larger the negative impact for men. However, separation did not appear to cause poor psychological or physical functioning in the female participants.
In all, 267 of the 1,803 participants had experienced parental separation. Compared to the control participants who were not separated from their parents during the war, the men in the separated group had higher levels of stress and higher rates of physical ailments. Alastalo believes that the increased rates of heart disease and aggression in men could be partly due to the vulnerability from ELS. The findings of this study did not explain why the women were not affected by parental separation in the same way men were. “Therefore,” added Alastalo, “Future research should examine further gender differences in relation early life stress and take into account the cumulative effects of all life disadvantages.”
Alastalo, H., von Bonsdorff, M.B., Räikkönen, K., Pesonen, A-K., Osmond C, et al. (2013). Early life stress and physical and psychosocial functioning in late adulthood. PLoS ONE 8(7): e69011. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069011
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.