The Effects of Childhood Trauma: The traumatic experience of childhood abuse can affect both physical and mental health decades later

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According to a recent study by University of Toronto researchers, old people who once had witnessed physical abuse in childhood were more likely to experience chronic pain and chronic physical illnesses in late life.

The physical illnesses develop diabetes, cancer, migraines, arthritis, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The links between childhood abuse and poor physical and mental health persisted even after accounting for income, education, smoking, drinking, and other causes of poor health.

Exposure to a stressful event in childhood can result in stressful events throughout life. A divorce or unemployment to childhood trauma and someone can be more likely to develop psychological disorders and addiction. But not all children who have experienced early life stress go on to develop mental illness. It seems how you cope with stressful experiences is not only influenced by prior experiences but also by your genes and coping response and brain regulation.

“Sadly, our findings suggest that the traumatic experience of childhood physical abuse can influence both physical and mental health many decades later. It also underlines the importance of assessing for adverse childhood experiences among patients of all ages, including older adults,” said Anna Buhrmann, who began this research for her undergraduate thesis in the Bachelor of Arts and Science program at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario and is a research assistant at the Institute of Life Course & Aging at the University of Toronto.

The physical illnesses that developed included diabetes, cancer, migraines, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The links between childhood abuse and poor physical and mental health persisted even after accounting for income, education, smoking, binge drinking, and other causes of poor health.