Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops after an individual has experienced an event that affected his/her ability to cope and compromised his/her personal integrity (Horam & Widom, 2015). According to Horam and Widom (2015), PTSD is most likely to occur in young individuals, starting from childhood to adolescents. At this stage, most people are usually subjected to a chronic trauma influenced by environmental and social determinants. The disorder might also occur in middle-aged and older adults. Therefore, failure to handle the PSTD at an early stage can have a detrimental effect on one’s cognitive development. Social environment also plays a significant role in determining cognitive development in adults. This paper highlights the relationship between aforementioned factors and PTSD. Therefore, this paper critically analyzes the available evidence-based materials to investigate the effects of PTSD on cognitive development of middle-aged and older adults.
Social environment to which a child is exposed has a significant influence on his/her cognitive development later in life. According to Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, physical environment can also influence intelligence growth of an individual (Haith & Benson, 2008). It is explained by the fact that as a child develops the knowledge he/she acquires is usually organized into particular schemes. Therefore, as a youngster grows these schemes change and provide a different perspective on information. Thus, according to Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, if a child is exposed to such events as sexual harassment and other forms of psychological stress, he/she can experience the impact of these stressful situations in adulthood. Therefore, Piaget's theory focuses fundamentally on the impact of social life on cognitive development. Another significant theory related to this study is Erickson’s theory of psychosocial development. The theory maintains that human beings have to go through eight distinct stages in their development (Brown, 2008). Nonetheless, the completion of each stage has a significant effect on individual’s personality and successful interactions with each other. Therefore, failure to undergo each stage systematically results in unhealthy personality.
Summary of Related Research
The primary objective of research by Horam and Widom (2015) is to identify how behaviors such as sexual intercourse, substance abuse and criminal behavior relate to child maltreatment and outcomes in the middle adulthood. The research established that child maltreatment is usually associated with depression and anxiety that may lead to post traumatic disorder. Maltreatment often makes children resort to nefarious activities, including prostitution and illicit drug use. Additionally, early initiation is associated with the use of more dangerous drugs and poor academic achievements leading to PTSD. Horam and Widom (2015) discuss that alcohol use before 15 years of age increases the likelihood of alcohol dependence. For instance, an individual using marijuana is likely to use other hard drugs like cocaine over years what has a detrimental impact on youth. Hedges and Woon (2011) have also investigated the long-term effects of engagement in criminal activities at young age. They found that early antisocial behavior could lead to drop out of high school and lower occupational success. Therefore, the victims tend to develop lower self-esteem that can result in stress. Gender differences can also play a significant role in the onset of risky behavior. Horam and Widom (2015) pointed out that males have higher rates of engagement in sexual activities and heavy drinking during adolescence than females. Therefore, in adulthood, they are likely to suffer from substance use disorders. Gender differences have also been associated with child neglect and maltreatment that increase the chances of PTSD. In the field of lifespan of human development, this research reveals how early exposure to substance abuse and sexual behavior affects human development.
Studies on how exposure to stress in early life relates to cognitive deficits prove that children are also vulnerable to PTSD. The research of Hedges and Woon (2011) conducted on children with a mean age of 14.3 with PTSD caused by personal violence and traffic accidents confirmes that indeed PTSD has a tremendous effect on children. Neurobiological factors have received limited empirical attention in the older trauma survivors. According to Hedges and Woon (2011), biological abnormalities such as low cortisol levels in young patients showed persistence into older adulthood. Additionally, prolonged stress and exposure to glucocorticoids have a tremendous influence on cortical dysfunctions that may affect cognitive development. The survey also established that events such as fetal malnutrition and psychiatric illness at an early stage of human life could result in other diseases like breast cancer. The research defined early life stress in humans as the period when severe and chronic traumas resulting from an environmental or social deprivation affect prenatal and postnatal life of an individual. This aspect usually tremendously influences neuropsychiatric outcomes. Hedges and Woon (2011) observed the brain regions of a hippopotamus showing abnormalities. Their observation proved that early life stress affects cognitive benefits. The research also included victims of neglect with and without PTSD to conduct their study on how postnatal life stress impacts cognitive deficit. They established that intellectual capabilities of these children had no significant differences in problem-solving skills and cognitive flexibility. Therefore, this research significantly contributed to the human lifespan development by showing that prenatal and postnatal life risks can contribute to cognitive deficits.
Another similar research by Qureshi et al. (2011) investigated whether PTSD impairs the cognition beyond the effect of trauma. Qureshi et al., (2011) have discussed that exposure to traumatic events affects 50-70 percent of the general population in the world. They also established that PTSD has several risk factors such as lower intellectual capabilities and dysfunctions in frontal and parietal cortical regions. Mild traumatic brain injury has been linked to oxidative stress and Alzheimer’s disease. The primary purpose of their research was to review the studies and analyze data related to memory and cognitive functions in the patients with PTSD. They compared and contrasted previous studies that involved PTSD patients and non-traumatized participants in their research. As a result, they have concluded that PTSD relates to cognitive impairment and individuals with the history of trauma are affected the most.
The research of Horam and Widom (2015) is based on cohort design study. They matched both neglected and non-abused children. The method for identifying neglected children was done by selecting children with serious cases, which attracted the attention of authorities. They mostly focused on children who were younger than 12 years-old and had serious physical injuries on their bodies. On the contrary, the research by Hedges and Woon (2011) conducted quasi-experiments on determining the impact of early-life stress on hippopotamus and humans. This method was also used to examine the problem-solving skills of the children affected with PTSD to determine their intellectual capacities. Finally, the research conducted by Qureshi et al., (2011) focused on an intensive evidence-based literature review. They analyzed results from studies that compared cognitive impairment in individuals with chronic PTSD and people with trauma experience. The study analyzed 21 articles published in English from 1968 to 2009 (Qureshi et al., 2011).
Analysis of the Findings
The first limitation of the research conducted by Horam and Widom (2015) is that their study is biased, since it focuses only on neglected children confirmed by the authorities. According to the reports of Boss (2013), the number of unreported cases of neglected children is higher than the number of reported cases. Therefore, this aspect might have affected the accuracy of their findings.
On the contrary, a significant limitation evident in the research by Hedges and Woon (2011) is focus on victims of sexual intercourse at young age. It can be argued that there might be a retrospective bias because of the victims’ failure to report previous criminal activities resulting from sexual assault. Secondly, sexual issues are usually considered as private and most participants are usually not willing to share their experience. Therefore, this aspect may have influenced the accuracy of their findings to some extent.
Finally, Qureshi et al., (2011) acknowledged that their primary limitation was their focus on articles that were primarily published in English language. Another major limitation was heterogeneity of the research design. This aspect was a critical limitation because it was impossible to apply meta-analysis due to variations in topics of the selected articles. This aspect compromised the findings of the study, since researchers could not settle on specific results for cognitive development.
Application of the Research
It is indeed true that the findings from these researches have an impact on personal behavior and values. The finding that substance abuse at young years can lead to cognitive deficits may shape an individual attitude towards alcohol and drugs. For instance, knowledge that mental illnesses experienced in adulthood such as schizophrenia occur due to substance abuse may reduce the prevalence of drug use. Secondly, the findings are also significant in reminding parents to care for their children at various developmental stages. Subjecting them to violence has detrimental effects and can lead to severe damages and PTSD.
The knowledge is also useful to the contemporary psychology professionals. It helps them understand the nature of different problems caused by PTSD. This aspect is significant in the application of specific evidence-based interventions. The findings will also equip them with knowledge and specific details on guiding the parents with children experiencing psychological problems because of PTSD. It will also assist them in differentiating between problems related to PTSD from other problems hence applying a proper guidance and counseling services.
In conclusion, PTSD in children affects them in adulthood. The severity of PTSD is correlated with the level of cognitive impairment exhibited in patients. Therefore, there is a need find possible interventions for affected patients in childhood to prevent the disorder from destroying their adulthood. This need follows the finding that an individual who acquired PTSD from parental abuse, sexual assault and substance abuse is likely to experience the consequences in future.