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Vets With Stress Disorder More Likely to Develop Dementia

Those with PTSD at greater risk than peers with combat injuries but no stress disorder, study found

THURSDAY, Sept. 2, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, are more likely to develop dementia than those without the disorder, according to researchers at a Veterans Affairs medical center in Texas.

The results were significant even after accounting for other risk factors for dementia such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

The researchers noted that further investigation is needed to learn the reasons behind their findings, published in the September issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

"Although we cannot at this time determine the cause for this increased risk, it is essential to determine whether the risk of dementia can be reduced by effectively treating PTSD. This could have enormous implications for veterans now returning from Iraq and Afghanistan," senior author Dr. Mark Kunik, a psychiatrist at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, said in a journal news release.

He and his colleagues studied 10,481 veterans, aged 65 and older, who had been seen at least twice at the medical center between 1997 and 1999. Outpatient data from the patients was gathered until 2008.

Overall, 36.4 percent of the veterans had PTSD. Dementia occurred in 11.1 percent of patients who had PTSD but had not been injured during combat, and in 7.2 percent of those who had PTSD and had suffered combat injuries, the investigators found. Dementia rates for veterans without PTSD were 4.5 percent for those without combat injuries and 5.9 percent for those who'd suffered combat injuries.

The study authors suggested that there could be a number of explanations for the findings: cognitive impairment in PTSD may be an early marker of dementia; having PTSD may increase the risk of developing dementia; or PTSD and dementia may have some common characteristics.

The findings about veterans may have wider significance, noted the author of an accompanying editorial.

"Confirmation of a causal link between PTSD and cognitive impairment in late life would have enormous global implications in a world facing a rising societal burden of dementia, a shrinking workforce to sustain its economies, and the difficulties of containing human violence," wrote Dr. Soo Borson of the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. "Soldiers and other U.S. war veterans are just one of many groups exposed to deeply traumatizing experiences with lifetime effect."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about PTSD.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, news release, Sept. 2, 2010
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