Posttraumatic stress in aging World War II survivors after a fireworks disaster: A controlled prospective study*


  • *

    This study was financially supported by the Foundation for Medical Psychology, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The authors thank Ilona E.W. Roos-Reuling, M.Sc., for her assistance with data collection and for entering the data into SPSS. In addition, the authors thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments


Little is known about the effects of cumulative trauma and whether traumatized individuals are more vulnerable. In 2000, a fireworks disaster created the possibility to examine this issue among World War˜II survivors who were part of an ongoing longitudinal study. Between 1998 and 2000 posttraumatic stress increased in disaster exposed respondents as opposed to the control group. War-related reexperiencing and avoidance also increased. The strongest increase occurred in disaster-exposed respondents who had low levels of wartime stress and a slight decrease occurred in those who had high wartime exposure. This unique controlled observation suggests that disasters do increase the levels of posttraumatic stress, and that reactivation of previous traumatic events generally occurs. However, the vulnerability hypothesis was not supported.