Comorbidity rates of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in dementia: a systematic literature review

European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Sjacko Sobczak, Miranda Olff, Bart Rutten, Frans Verhey & Kay Deckers


Background: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been described as an independent risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia. At the same time, cognitive deterioration and increased loss experiences in dementia may increase liability for the reactivation of traumatic memories and thereby PTSD symptoms.

Objective: In order to investigate co-occurrence of PTSD in dementia this systematic literature review summarizes all the available evidence on reported comorbidity rates of PTSD in patients with dementia.

Method: PubMed, Embase, PsycINFO and CINAHL were searched for potential publications investigating the co-occurrence of PTSD in dementia until 25 November 2019. Cohort and cross-sectional studies were included. To assure current comorbidity of PTSD in dementia, only publications with a recent PTSD diagnosis (<2 years before onset of dementia) were selected.

Results: Of the 860 identified abstracts, three studies (0.35%) met the eligibility criteria and were included. These three studies concerned only military veteran populations, and they comprised two cross-sectional cohort studies and one prospective cohort study. The estimated comorbidity rate of PTSD in veterans with dementia varied between 4.7% and 7.8%.

Conclusions: The limited research available shows comorbidity rates only in military veterans, which were possibly dependent on investigated population with respect to dementia severity and possibly associated behavioural and psychiatric symptoms of dementia (BPSD). In dementia patients the comorbidity with PTSD may be high and we suggest that worldwide the impact of PTSD in dementia is high and probably underestimated. Research and care on this topic should improve urgently with the current expanding prevalence of dementia. A first step to improve quality of dementia research and care would be to develop a structured tool to diagnose PTSD in these patients.

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