There are many risks associated with serving in the military but it may be that some risks continue long after this service has ended. A recent study published online on Wednesday in the journal Neurology examined a group of older veterans found there could be a link between Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and the development of dementia.
Dementia is defined by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke as a collection of symptoms that are caused by a number of disorders that affect the brain. People with dementia have impaired intellectual and cognitive functioning and also experience behavioral and personality changes. Dementia is a major health care issue in the US.
Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia currently affects 5.3 million Americans. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the country and the fifth leading cause in people aged 65 and over. The research in Neurology followed 188,784 veterans who had an average age of 68 when the study began. All participants were free of dementia and had at least one visit to a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care facility.
“There seems to be growing evidence that traumatic brain injury may be a trigger for earlier onset of dementia later in life and our results add to this evidence,” lead author Deborah E. Barnes, PhD, University of California, San Francisco commented. “If an older patient is known to have had a traumatic brain injury earlier in life, then doctors need to look more closely for cognitive symptoms. This is something to be aware of as a consequence of traumatic brain injury.”
Although the study looked at veterans, their injuries weren’t necessarily related to military service and experts said the results could just as easily apply to the civilian world.
“These injuries are very similar to what you would find in industrial accidents, automobile accidents and sports,” Stein said.
The researchers did not classify the brain injuries by severity or determine when or how they occurred, leaving open the question of whether mild TBIs, which involve relative brief periods of disorientation and sometimes loss of consciousness are associated with increased risk of dementia.
The researchers conclude that their findings also raise concern about the consequences of blast related injuries in today’s veterans as well as the growing rate of TBIs in the civilian population.