NORDRESS first PhD Edda Björk Þórðardóttir defended her Doctoral thesis at the University of Iceland on June 7th 2016. Edda Björk is the first NORDRESS doctoral student to complete her studies. Congratulations, Edda Björk!
Long-term health consequences of avalanches in Iceland in 1995: A 16 year follow-up.
To date, no study has investigated the effects of avalanches on survivors’ health beyond the first years. The aim of this thesis was to examine predictors of long-term morbidities of survivors of avalanches 16 years after exposure. Participants were 286 inhabitants of Súdavik and Flateyri in 1995 when the avalanches fell (exposed group) and 357 residents of Breiddalsvík and Raufarhöfn in 1995 (unexposed group). Self-report questionnaires were sent in 2011 assessing background characteristics, disaster-related experiences and health status. Results indicate that overall 16% of survivors experience current avalanche specific PTSD symptoms 16 years post-disaster. Predictors of PTSD symptoms were lack of social support, financial hardship in the aftermath of the trauma and not having provided assistance post-disaster. Among childhood survivors, predictors of PTSD symptoms were lack of social support and traumatic reactions of caregivers in the aftermath of the disaster. Furthermore, compared to the non-exposed group, avalanche survivors present with increased risk of PTSD hyperarousal symptoms, musculoskeletal, nervous system and gastrointestinal problems as well as sleep-related disturbances. When assessing sleep disturbances across the developmental spectrum, we found that adults were at increased risk for persistent nightmares post-trauma, while childhood survivors were at greater risk of acting out dreams. The results indicate that disasters can have long-standing effects on survivor’s health 16 years later and highlight the need for health care services to provide long-term assistance to disaster communities, especially evidence-based PTSD and sleep treatment.