A new study to be published in June edition of the American Medical Association's journal Archives of General Psychiatry has linked former warfighters suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to an increased risk for dementia.
Kristine Yaffe, MD, associate professor in the Psychiatry, Neurology and Epidemiology departments at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Chief of Geriatric Psychiatry, Director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center, led the study that included 181,093 veterans aged 55 and up between 1997 and 2000. 96.5% were men of the total 29% had PTSD and 71% did not.
The researchers noted, "There are several reasons why patients with PTSD may have an increased risk of developing dementia" as PTSD could be a factor in dementia or "chronic stress may link the two conditions."
During 2000-7 the authors of the study, followed up with the veterans and found 17.2% had dementia and those with PTSD had a 4% greater likelihood of developing dementia than those without PTSD.
Past studies have shown that both young and middle-aged former US warfighters (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan) suffering from PTSD also cope with the decreased ability to think, learn and remember.
It could be the case that chronic stress "damages the hippocampus, a brain area critical for memory and learning, or cause alterations in neurotransmitter and hormone levels that could precipitate dementia."
"The finding that PTSD is associated with a near doubling of the risk of dementia has important public health, policy and biological implications."
Yaffe and her colleagues concluded:
"It is important that those with PTSD are treated, and further investigation is needed to see whether successful treatment of PTSD may reduce the risk of adverse health outcomes, including dementia."
"...it is critical to follow up patients with PTSD, especially if they are of an advanced age, to screen for cognitive impairment. "
"...mechanisms linking PTSD and dementia must be identified in hope of finding ways to improve the care and outcomes of patients with PTSD."
For those suffering from chronic stress and anxiety that have not seen war, these findings could also prove memory saving. If you are suffering from unending anxiety because of a past stressful situation, getting help now may help to your brain in the long run.