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Study Shows PTSD/Dementia Link

A study funded by the US Department of Defense and the National Institute on Aging has determined that veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are at a greater risk of developing dementia in later years.

Although there was clearly an association, the relationship between PTSD and dementia may not be causal, according to Deborah Barnes, Ph.d from the University of California, San Francisco (WebMd).  If, however, it IS causal, chronic stress would likely be contributing to the higher levels of dementia among vets; according to previous studies, stress can damage the hippocampus – the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning. 

For the dementia study, 180,000 veterans were followed for 7 years; 53,000 of them were diagnosed with PTSD.  In 2000, none of the study participants had dementia, but by the end of 2007, 31,000 of them had it.

After adjusting for various factors, including substance abuse and head injuries, the data showed that those who suffered from PTSD were 77% more likely to develop dementia later in life.

Currently, PTSD is also a major factor in disability claims; according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, after back pain and knee injuries, it is one of the most prevalent complaints (NY Times).

A recent study has shown that 17% of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from PTSD.  A complicating factor when treating these vets is that many of them have suffered brain injuries from roadside improvised explosive devices, a factor which may raise their dementia risk higher still (WebMd).