Military veterans exposed to combat were more likely to exhibit signs of depression and anxiety in later life than veterans who had not seen combat.
The findings suggest that military service, and particularly combat experience, is a hidden variable in research on aging, says Dr. Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research in the Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences and one of the study’s authors.
“There are a lot factors of aging that can impact mental health in late life, but there is something about having been a combat veteran that is especially important,” Dr. Aldwin says.
The findings were published recently in the journal Psychology and Aging. The first author is Dr. Hyunyup Lee, who conducted the research as a doctoral student at OSU; co-authors are Dr. Soyoung Choun of OSU and Dr. Avron Spiro III of Boston University and the VA Boston Healthcare System. The research was funded by the National Institutes on Aging and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
There is little existing research that examines the effects of combat exposure on aging and in particular on the impacts of combat on mental health in late life, Dr. Aldwin says. Many aging studies ask about participants’ status as veterans, but don’t unpack that further to look at differences between those who were exposed to combat and those who weren’t.
Using data from the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study, a longitudinal study that began in the 1960s to investigate aging in initially healthy men, the researchers explored the relationship between combat exposure and depressive and anxiety symptoms, as well as self-rated health and stressful life events.
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