Activity engagement and psychological distress among Holocaust survivors during the COVID-19 pandemic

Yoav S. Bergman, Ruth Maytles, Maya Frenkel-Yosef, Amit Shrira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objectives: The COVID-19 pandemic may pose a specific threat for Holocaust survivors, as such threats may be linked with increased psychological distress. Moreover, research has demonstrated that engaging in planful problem-solving activities is associated with reduced distress. Accordingly, we aimed to examine the link between engaging in activities during COVID-19 and psychological distress among Holocaust survivors with varying levels of post-traumatic symptoms (PTS) and comparisons (not directly exposed to the Holocaust). Design: A cross-sectional design composed of Holocaust survivors and a comparison group. Setting: Participants were interviewed face-to-face, over the telephone, or filled the scales online at their leisure. Participants: Data were collected from 131 older Jewish Israelis (age range 76-94, M = 82.73, SD = 4.09), who were divided into three groups (comparisons; low-PTS survivors; high-PTS survivors). Measurements: Participants completed scales assessing PTS, activity engagement, and psychological distress and provided additional sociodemographic, medical, and COVID-19-related information. Results: When activity engagement was low, high-PTS survivors reported extremely high levels of psychological distress relative to low-PTS survivors and comparisons. However, when activity engagement was high, these group differences were considerably reduced, as the psychological distress of high-PTS survivors was significantly lower. Conclusions: The study highlights the importance of daily planning and activity engagement for Holocaust survivors with high PTS levels in reducing psychological distress. Clinicians are urged to take this factor into account when dealing with the psychological effects of COVID-19 on survivors and on traumatized older adults in general.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1289-1296
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Psychogeriatrics
Issue number12
Early online date30 Jul 2021
StatePublished - 30 Dec 2021

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  • Holocaust
  • activity engagement
  • older adults
  • post-traumatic symptoms
  • psychological distress


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