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The impact of forced displacement in World War II on mental health disorders and health-related quality of life in late life – a German population-based study

  • Simone Freitag (a1), Elmar Braehler (a2), Silke Schmidt (a1) and Heide Glaesmer (a2)

Background: Long-term effects of World War II experiences affect psychological and physical health in aged adults. Forced displacement as a traumatic event is associated with increased psychological burden even after several decades. This study investigates the contribution of forced displacement as a predictor for mental health disorders and adds the aspect of health-related quality of life (QoL).

Method: A sample of 1,659 German older adults aged 60–85 years was drawn from a representative survey. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), somatoform symptoms, depressive syndromes, and health-related QoL were assessed as outcome variables. Chi-square and t-test statistics examined differences between displaced and non-displaced people. Logistic regression analyses were performed to examine the impact of forced displacement on mental health disorders and QoL.

Results: Displaced people reported higher levels of PTSD, depressive and somatoform symptoms, and lower levels of health-related QoL. Displacement significantly predicted PTSD and somatoform symptoms in late life, but not depressive disorders. Health-related QoL was predicted by forced displacement and socio-demographic variables.

Conclusion: Forced displacement is associated with an elevated risk for PTSD and somatoform symptoms and lowered health-related QoL in aged adults. Its unique impact declines after including socio-demographic variables. Long-term consequences of forced displacement need further investigations and should include positive aspects in terms of resilience and protective coping strategies.

Corresponding author
Correspondence should be addressed to: Simone Freitag, Department Health and Prevention, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University Greifswald, 17487 Greifswald, Germany. Phone: +49-3834-863805; Fax: +49-3834-863801. Email:
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International Psychogeriatrics
  • ISSN: 1041-6102
  • EISSN: 1741-203X
  • URL: /core/journals/international-psychogeriatrics
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