Associations between memory loss and trauma in US asylum seekers: A retrospective review of medico-legal affidavits.

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From: PLoS ONE(Vol. 16, Issue 3)
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Document Type: Report
Length: 5,693 words
Lexile Measure: 1510L

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Abstract :

Background The U.S. immigration system mandates that persons seeking asylum prove their persecution claim is credible and their fear of returning home is well-founded. However, this population represents a highly trauma-exposed group, with neuropsychiatric symptoms consequent to prior torture or maltreatment that may interfere with cognitive function and their ability to recall their trauma. These memory lapses may be incorrectly perceived by asylum adjudicators as indicators of dishonesty and jeopardize the person's credibility and asylum claim. Our retrospective mixed methods study seeks to present associations between trauma and memory loss in a sample of persons seeking asylum to the U.S. and describe how memory impairments manifest in this trauma-exposed population. Methods We randomly selected 200 medico-legal affidavits from 1346 affidavits collected in the past 30 years, as part of the Physicians for Human Rights Asylum Network connecting clinicians with legal providers for medical and/or psychiatric affidavits of U.S. asylum seekers and persons seeking other forms of humanitarian relief (hereafter, "asylum seekers"). Data was extracted from these affidavits using a coding manual informed by the Istanbul Protocol, the global standard for torture documentation. Seven affidavits were excluded due to missing age. We used multiple logistic regression to assess the association of memory loss with neuropsychiatric diagnoses: head trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression. We supplemented these findings with a qualitative content analysis of the affidavits documenting memory loss. Memory loss presented among the asylum seekers' affidavits in several ways: memory gaps of the traumatic event; challenges with presenting a clear chronology of the trauma, avoidance of traumatic memories, and persistent short-term memory loss interfering with daily activity. Results A majority of the sample received a neuropsychiatric diagnosis: 69% (n = 132) of asylum-seekers received a diagnosis of PTSD and 55% (n = 106) of depression. Head trauma was reported among 30% (n = 58) of affidavits. Further, 68% (n = 131) reported being subject to physical violence and 20% (n = 39) were documented as being at risk of suicide. Memory loss was documented among 21% (n = 40) asylum-seekers. In adjusted models, both PTSD and depression, but not head trauma, were associated with memory loss (p Conclusion Stakeholders in the asylum process, spanning the medical, legal and immigration enforcement sectors, must be aware of the interplay of trauma and memory loss and how they might impact immigration proceedings for this vulnerable population.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A656020278