International Psychogeriatrics

Research Article

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 Freitaga1 c1, Elmar Braehlera2, Silke Schmidta1 and Heide Glaesmera2

a1 Department Health and Prevention, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University Greifswald, 17487 Greifswald, Germany

a2 Department of Medical Psychology and Medical Sociology, University of Leipzig, 04103 Leipzig, Germany


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.

(Received June 04 2012)

(Reviewed July 03 2012)

(Revised August 10 2012)

(Accepted August 28 2012)

(Online publication September 24 2012)

Key words:

  • forced displacement;
  • World War II;
  • older adults;
  • PTSD;
  • quality of life