Age effect on autobiographical memory specificity

a study on autobiographical memory specificity in elderly survivors of childhood trauma

Charlotte E. Wittekind, Lena Jelinek, Birgit Kleim, Christoph Muhtz, Steffen Moritz, Fabrice Berna*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Citations (Scopus)


Background and objectives Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is accompanied by altered autobiographical memories (AM) of the traumatic incident itself as well as of non-trauma-related events. Several studies have shown that trauma-exposed individuals developing PTSD have a reduced capacity to access specific past events that are not related to the traumatic event compared to those who do not develop PTSD. However, one study including a group of elderly adults did not find significant differences in AM between PTSD and non-PTSD participants. The present study investigated whether PTSD is associated with impaired AM of trauma-related and non-trauma-related memories in the elderly. Method Forty-four elderly participants, displaced during childhood from former German territories after the end of World War II (WWII), were examined. This group comprised 19 participants with and 25 participants without PTSD. These participants were compared to 23 non-traumatized non-displaced elderly participants. Results PTSD, non-PTSD and non-traumatized participants do not differ significantly in their ability to recall specific memories of their past. Moreover, participants with PTSD did not recall more trauma-related memories than non-PTSD participants. Limitations The traumatized participants reached for assessment might represent the most resilient individuals, which might constrain generalizability of our results to other trauma populations. Conclusions This study confirms preliminary evidence that PTSD is not associated with AM impairment in the elderly. We suggest that aging may alter the relationship between trauma and AM impairment in traumatized participants with PTSD, which need to be confirmed by longitudinal studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-253
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • autobiographical memory
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • aging
  • depression
  • trauma
  • older adults

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