Variability in responses to early-life adversity and their consequences on aging

We conduct a study at the Department of Psychology of the University of Zurich, in which we examine the long-term consequences of early-life adversity in a high-risk sample of older individuals who were institutionalized or otherwise administratively placed in care in their childhood or adolescence.

  • Project description (ongoing research project)

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    Our project encompasses three interconnected studies: The first is an international comparison study between data of our own recently conducted study with former Verdingkinder and data, that will be collected in a study with former institutionalized individuals in Ireland. The second and main study is a prospective longitudinal study with a mid- to older-aged Swiss cohort of persons that were affected by compulsory social measures and placements (CSMP) in their childhood and/or adolescence. This study will examine outcomes and trajectories of psychological and physical health over time, as well as related vulnerability and resilience factors. The third study will be a descriptive study with a cohort of institution staff and foster families involved in the care of persons affected by CSMP.

  • Background

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    While welfare practices aim to provide a protective environment, too often they become potential sources of early-life adversity. This was particularly true in the last century, during which these practices were still poorely controlled. Current research suggests a long-term deteriorating impact on health by early-life adversity. But not all affected individuals develop psychopathology or ill-health. Some overcome adversity relatively unharmed, and some may even become psychologically stronger.

  • Aim

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    It is of utmost importance to understand this interindividual variability in responses to difficult early-life experiences and their consequences on aging. It is the overarching aim of the proposed project to identify the determinants and underlying mechanisms associated with past experiences of early-life adversity within a welfare context, which differentiate detrimental outcomes and trajectories from relative unharmed (resilient) or maybe also positive outcomes and trajectories in later life.

  • Relevance

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    It is crucial to achieve a better understanding of how individuals with comparable backgrounds of early-life adversity go on to develop detrimental, adaptive, or even beneficial health and aging outcomes and trajectories. This particular knowledge can then be directly implemented into therapeutic measures for affected individuals and can influence future policy and child welfare practice directions.

  • Original title

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    Differential aging trajectories in high-risk individuals with past experiences of early adversity