The impact of repeated earthquakes on the cognition of Canterbury’s elderly population.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Objective: The nature of disaster research makes it difficult to adequately measure the impact that significant events have on a population. Large, representative samples are required, ideally with comparable data collected before the event. When Christchurch, New Zealand, was struck by multiple, devastating earthquakes, there presented an opportunity to investigate the effects of dose-related quakes (none, one, two or three over a 9-month period) on the cognition of Canterbury’s elderly population through the New Zealand Brain Research Institute’s (NZBRI’s) cognitive screening study. The related effects of having a concomitant medical condition, sex, age and estimated- full scale IQ (Est-FSIQ) on cognition were also investigated.
Method: 609 participants were tested on various neuropsychological tests and a self-rated dementia scale in a one hour interview at the NZBRI. Four groups were established, based on the number of major earthquakes experienced at the time of testing: “EQ-dose: None” (N = 51) had experienced no quakes; “EQ-dose: One” (N = 193) had experienced the initial quake in September 2010; “EQ-dose: Two” (N = 82) also experienced the most devastating February 2011 quake; and “EQ-dose: Three” (N = 265) also the June 2011 quake at testing.
Results: Two neuropsychological variables of Trail A and the AD8 were impacted by an EQ-dose effect, while having a medical condition was associated with poorer function on the MoCA, Rey Copy and Recall, Trail A, and AD8. Having a major medical condition led to worse performance on the Rey Copy and Recall following the major February earthquake. Males performed significantly better on Trail A and Rey Planning, while females better on the MoCA. Older participants (>73) had significantly lower scores on the MoCA than younger participants (<74), while those with a higher Est-FSIQ (>111) had better scores on the MoCA and Rey Recall than participants with a lower Est-FSIQ. Finally, predicted variable analysis (based on calculated, sample-specific Z-scores) failed to find a significant earthquake effect when variables of age, sex and Est-FSIQ were controlled for, while there was a significant effect of medical condition on each measure.
Conclusion: The current thesis provides evidence suggesting resilience amongst Canterbury’s elderly population in the face of the sequence of significant quakes that struck the region over a year from September 2010. By contrast, having a major medical condition was a ‘more significant life event’ in terms of impact on cognition in this group.