The impact of trauma-related information on memory performance in aging Holocaust survivors with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was evaluated. Explicit and implicit memory for neutral and Holocaust-related words was assessed in Holocaust survivors with PTSD (PTSD+, n=31), in Holocaust survivors without PTSD (PTSD-, n=17), and in healthy Jewish adults not exposed to the Holocaust (non-exposed, n=34) using the paired associates learning and word-stem completion tests, respectively. The PTSD + group had significantly poorer paired associate recall than the PTSD- and non-exposed groups, and showed a significantly different response to the introduction of Holocaust-related words. The PTSD+ group recalled significantly more words from the Holocaust-related than the neutral word pairs, whereas word type had little effect on paired associate recall in the other two groups. In contrast, there were no group differences in implicit memory performance or in the effect of Holocaust-related words on implicit memory. Among Holocaust survivors, explicit recall of Holocaust-related word pairs was associated with intrusive PTSD symptoms. These results suggest that aging Holocaust survivors with PTSD preferentially form new associations with trauma-related stimuli as compared with neutral stimuli. The presence of such a disturbance of associative learning decades after the Holocaust may underlie the persistence of psychological symptoms and, in particular, the intrusive symptoms of PTSD. This trauma-related facilitation of explicit memory, together with generally poorer explicit memory, may help to explain the bi-directional nature of the memory impairments in PTSD.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Biological Psychiatry