PTSD Linked to Dementia in Later Life

ptsdalzheimers

Article courtesy of Elements Behavioral Health

A new study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Institute on Aging investigated the relationships between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Alzheimer’s disease, and other dementias in aging veterans. After researching the trends in these older service members’ mental health over a seven-year time span, the study found that veterans diagnosed with PTSD were nearly twice as likely as other veterans to develop Alzheimer’s disease or dementia as they age.

PTSD is a multi-faceted condition that has long been attributed to veterans of war. PTSD can cause a range of symptoms including disturbing flashbacks or nightmares of trauma, despondency, fatigue, depression, anxiety, anger, and insomnia. The common symptom of memory loss might indicate that damage to the region of the brain that controls memory, the hippocampus, could be caused by acute stress. Researcher Kristine Yaffe and her team’s study is the first to consider a connection between PTSD and age-related dementias, although it was not clear whether PTSD increases susceptibility for dementia, or if recurring episodes of PTSD are early symptoms of dementia that have not yet been identified.

Veterans diagnosed with PTSD were nearly twice as likely as other veterans to develop Alzheimer’s disease or dementia as they age.

Through the VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) medical centers, the research team followed 181,093 veterans who were over the age of 55, mostly male, who were not exhibiting signs of dementia. The study began in 1997, and measured the veterans’ mental health progress through 2007. Prior to the trial period, 53,155 of the veterans had already been diagnosed with PTSD, while 127,938 veterans had not. After a follow-up measurement in 2000, none of the veterans had been diagnosed with dementia – but by 2007, 31,107 veterans had been newly diagnosed with dementia. The veterans who had PTSD had a 10.6 percent incident rate of dementia within a seven-year period, while those without PTSD had only a 6.6 percent incident rate. Furthermore, the veterans with PTSD were 77 percent more likely to develop dementia than those without PTSD when risk factors related to Alzheimer’s disease were included. The same results were found even after excluding those veterans who had a history of clinical depression, substance abuse, or head injury.

Now that a link between PTSD and late-life dementia has been discovered, the researchers concluded that further research is required to help identify the actual mechanism that triggers dementia in individuals with PTSD, in order to help lower the risk. PTSD is a chronic condition that may last for years or even an entire lifetime. Sometimes individuals with PTSD experience their symptoms in recurring episodes over time.

According to the VA, about one in three Vietnam veterans, one in 10 Gulf War veterans, 6 to 11 percent of Afghanistan War veterans, and 12 to 20 percent of Iraq War veterans have PTSD. As many as 12 percent of veterans of World War II and the Korean War still report symptoms of PTSD.

Estimates say that 5.2 million Americans experience PTSD in any given year. And the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. An estimated 14 percent of Americans over the age of 71 have some type of dementia.

According to the VA, about one in three Vietnam veterans, one in 10 Gulf War veterans, 6 to 11 percent of Afghanistan War veterans, and 12 to 20 percent of Iraq War veterans have PTSD.

Health-care services for military personnel have been sharply criticized throughout the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, especially regarding services provided for substance abuse and mental health. Recently, the General Leonard Wood Army Hospital in Missouri came under scrutiny when a former drug counselor from the hospital filed an official complaint against the hospital’s commander and director of the facility’s drug-treatment program. The complaint alleged that the officials were intentionally refusing soldiers drug treatment in order to alleviate overcrowding and reduce the long waiting lists, which have become a common problem throughout the Army. After an Army internal investigation, the complaint was dismissed, and the drug counselor sought assistance elsewhere.

Prompted by the drug counselor’s concerns, U.S. Senator and Senate Armed Services Committee member Claire McCaskill stepped in and sought legislation to help improve and secure the Army’s Substance Abuse Program. Since McCaskill helped gain passage of the National Defense Authorization Act and initiation of the Army’s Confidential Alcohol Treatment Education Program (CATEP), the Army has announced a realignment of its substance-abuse and mental-health services for military personnel, to not only improve provisions of services but also accessibility and management”

 

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