Are veterans at higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease?
Recent research has shown that veterans are at a disproportionately higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease than their non-veteran peers. This has been attributed to a number of factors to include the higher instances and risk of traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and blast-induced neurotrauma (BINT). All of these impact the brain in some immediate way but they are also causing long term damage that may not present itself for many years.
An early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is difficulty learning new information. This can often be mistaken as a sign of regular aging and is difficult for the person it is affecting to notice. Family members are usually the first to recognize that a veteran is showing signs of the disease. As it progresses the disease begins to show more severe symptoms. These symptoms can be mood and behavior changes, unfounded suspicions about those around them, disorientation to time or place, memory loss, and in severe cases difficulty speaking.
What are the differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s?
Dementia and Alzheimer’s are often used as if the terms are interchangeable but they do not mean the same thing. Dementia is considered a syndrome. Syndromes are defined as a group of symptoms that occur together consistently. This particular syndrome affects the cognitive functions of the brain. There are many diseases and disorders that fall under that category. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia. Alzheimer’s is a disease that causes impairment to the brain specifically affecting memory and cognition.
To better understand this disease it is important to know where it originates. With this disease there are two structures that cause damage to the brain, they called plaques and tangles. It has been found that plaques and tangles are normal in the brain as we age but in Alzheimer’s patients, they are found in much greater numbers. The plaques are proteins that form in between the nerve cells and the tangles are protein fibers that form inside the cells of the brain. It is the very formation of the proteins that cause the symptoms that we see so often in patients.
What is the biggest risk factor of Alzheimer’s Disease?
A recent study called Veterans and Alzheimer’s: Meeting the Crisis Head On, concluded that age is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s especially after age 65. Currently, 50% of veterans are 65 years old or over. The study also noted that those veterans that suffered a TBI were 60% more likely to be affected by dementia of some kind. It is predicted that 420,000 veterans will develop Alzheimer’s between 2010 and 2020. The study looked to the future and noted that the instances of TBI in the Afghanistan/Iraq war veterans were almost double when compared to the instances among Vietnam veterans. This statistic indicates that this is a disease that will continue to plague veterans at a higher rate for the foreseeable future. The study came to be read in its entirety here. A 2014 study titled Prisoner of War Status, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and Dementia in Older Veterans explored the risk of developing dementia in POWs with PTSD and POWs without PTSD. It was found that those veterans that were POWs and had PTSD developed dementia at a higher rate. You can read more here.
Is there a cure for Alzheimer’s disease?
There is currently no cure or prevention for Alzheimer’s disease. But there are ways to slow the progression and development of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. They include physical exercise, keeping your heart healthy, a healthy diet, avoiding head injury, doing mentally stimulating activities like puzzles, and socializing. All of these activities have been shown to improve your quality of life in general and are good to put into practice at any age. Early detection and treatment are key in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Presently, treatments include medications to manage the various presenting symptoms. They can be unique to each person. Cutting edge research is popping up all over the world in attempts to find a cure and to reverse the effects of this disease. An interesting study conducted at the University of California found that there may be hope in blood therapy. In the study, when older mice with age-related cognitive impairments were injected with blood plasma from younger mice it was found that those older mice began to improve cognitively. We noted earlier that the plaque that forms in the brain damages the nerves. This therapy saw a rejuvenation of those nerves. The study can be read here. Research like this is just scratching the surface of the possibilities of therapies to explore. In the meantime, it is important to lower your risk factors or seek treatment if you are experiencing any symptoms that have been noted.