Peritraumatic Stress From a Disaster Increases Risk for Onset of Chronic Diseases Among Older Adults

Laura P. Sands, Quyen Do, Pang Du, Rachel Pruchno

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background and Objectives: Our understanding of the impact of disaster exposure on the physical health of older adults is largely based on hospital admissions for acute illnesses in the weeks following a disaster. Studies of longer-term outcomes have centered primarily on mental health. Missing have been studies examining whether exposure to disaster increases the risk for the onset of chronic diseases. We examined the extent to which 2 indicators of disaster exposure (geographic exposure and peritraumatic stress) were associated with new onset of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, and lung disease to improve our understanding of the long-term physical health consequences of disaster exposure. Research Design and Methods: We linked self-reported data collected prior to and following Hurricane Sandy from a longitudinal panel study with Medicare data to assess time to new onset of chronic diseases in the 4 years after the hurricane. Results: We found that older adults who reported high levels of peritraumatic stress from Hurricane Sandy had more than twice the risk of experiencing a new diagnosis of lung disease, diabetes, and arthritis in the 4 years after the hurricane compared to older adults who did not experience high levels of peritraumatic stress. Geographic proximity to the hurricane was not associated with these outcomes. Analyses controlled for known risk factors for the onset of chronic diseases, including demographic, psychosocial, and health risks. Discussion and Implications: Findings reveal that physical health effects of disaster-related peritraumatic stress extend beyond the weeks and months after a disaster and include new onset of chronic diseases that are associated with loss of functioning and early mortality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberigab052
JournalInnovation in Aging
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Health Professions (miscellaneous)
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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