Veterans, PTSD, and the Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Many veterans deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the trauma of being in combat. This anxiety disorder can include sleeping difficulties, flashbacks, anger, problems functioning in society, issues with work and relationships, and the avoidance of topics, experiences and things that may induce flashbacks or anxiety. A recent study finds that this may be linked to increase risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s for older veterans. The reason is unknown, though PTSD has been linked with a reduced volume in the part of the brain that affects stress and memory, the hippocampus. The findings suggest that older veterans with PTSD should be watched closely for signs of early dementia.

The study was led by Kristine Yaffe, MD, Associate Chair of Research for the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, Professor of Psychiatry, Neurology and Epidemiology, and Chief of Geriatric Psychiatry and Director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at the San Francisco VA Medical Center.

The study included over 53,000 veterans with PTSD and no dementia, and over 127,000 veterans without PTSD and dementia. The data was gained from the Department of Veterans Affairs National Patient Care Database. The veterans were followed for six years to find whether or not they would develop dementia.

What they found that those without PTSD developed dementia at over 10 percent, while those with PTSD developed dementia and double that amount. The results suggested clearly that those with PTSD were more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s. These results were adjusted for medical and psychiatric comorbidities and demographics, and excluded those with a history of depression, substance abuse and brain injury.