Date of Award

Spring 5-19-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

MAE - Master of Arts in Expressive Therapies


Expressive Therapies


Raquel Stephenson


This review explores the possible link between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the increased risk of developing dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic stress and trauma alter the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal pathway resulting in increased exposure to glucocorticoids (GC). The hippocampus, a memory center of the brain, is highly vulnerable to the effect of the stress hormone GC because of the high density of GC receptors. Continuous exposure to stress causes reduced hippocampal volume resulting in memory problems, trouble in trauma processing and long term health consequences, possibly including Alzheimer’s disease. Trauma also results in reshaping the amygdala, the center of emotions, causing emotional outbursts among patients with PTSD. Service members and civilian adults with PTSD have higher risk of dementia at older age. Because trauma processing is often non-verbal, art therapy may be an effective treatment because it uses sensory information to transform images into trauma narrative. However, art therapy is more effective when combined with other psychotherapeutic modalities such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Hence, art therapy can be part of a treatment regimen that helps in the healing of trauma. That said, early treatment after exposure to trauma can prevent the long term consequences of stress on hippocampal reshaping, which may result in dementia. Evidence-based research for the effectiveness of art therapy in PTSD and the prevention of dementia is highly needed. This review provides a wide overview of the link between PTSD, dementia and the different treatment modalities that can be used for future research.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License




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