For veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with head injuries, the wounds of war may eventually include dementia. In a study reported at a July 18 meeting in Paris of the Alzheimer’s Association, researchers found that older veterans who had suffered concussions were more than twice as likely as other veterans to develop Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
Doctors have suspected for many years that a blow to the head could set the stage for dementia. But the new study — involving more than 281,000 veterans 55 and over — was one of the largest to ever look at the long-term effects on a group that suffers more than its share of head injuries.
The researchers looked at veterans who had visited a doctor at least once between 1997 and 2000 and had a follow-up visit between 2001 and 2007. The study found that almost 16% of veterans with a history of head trauma had developed dementia during that time. By comparison, only 7% of those who hadn’t suffered a head injury were diagnosed with dementia.
With the widespread reliance by insurgents on roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been especially rife with head injuries, making the latest study findings especially relevant and disconcerting. Army doctors estimate that 15% to 25% of soldiers deployed to these countries end up with “mild traumatic brain injury,” caused by direct blows to the head and/or exposures to blasts. For those seriously wounded in combat, the list of injuries generally includes head trauma. A 2006 study found that two-thirds of soldiers sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center from Iraq had brain injuries.
Head injuries can leave long-lasting psychological wounds, too. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2008 found that a serious head injury quadrupled the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder. Of 2,500 infantry soldiers studied who had just finished serving a year in Iraq, 5% had received a blow to the head that was severe enough to knock them out. More than 40% of these soldiers showed the classic signs of PTSD. For those who weren’t injured, the rate of PTSD was less than 10%.
PTSD can be overcome with counseling, medication and time. For now, though, there is no real treatment for Alzheimer’s. Unless that changes, many veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will be facing a new battle in 30 to 40 years.
July 20, 2011|By Chris Woolston, HealthKey- Los Angeles Times
Today I am thinking of our veterans. I do not support war, nor do I care to engage in that discourse at this moment. I simply hope that people take a second to think about the people that do this service for our country. Not just today, in general.
Both of my grandfathers fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Both came back without physical injury.
Grandpa Leonard lives and is passionate about life. He is healthy and can do things physically that I can not. Grandpa Dave passed away in 1998. He served as an Infantry Field Officer who led a mortar team. Although he returned with no visible injuries, I believe he was injured.
At the time there was not a lot of attention paid to head trauma and the negative effects it has on the brain. Grandpa Dave was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the early 1990′s. My Grandmother believes it was caused by what he went through while he was serving for our country. He passed away on my sister’s birthday from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
For more details on Grandpa Dave’s story visit: http://www.endearforalz.com/about.html
I would like to impart the importance of paying attention to the people who have fought in our wars. Pay attention to them while they are over seas and pay special attention to them when they return.
Thank you to our Veterans.