Celebrating Our Veterans,
Caring for Their Brain Health.
Thank you, Veterans!
On November 11th, we celebrate and honor those who have served to defend our nation. Veteran’s Day is also an opportune time to reflect and acknowledge how service can impact a veteran’s brain health and what can be done to help improve brain wellness.
Alzheimer’s Risk in Veterans
TBI and PTSD
More than 750,000 older veterans are living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in the United States, estimates The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA).
According to UsAgainstAlzheimer’s, veterans are at higher risks for traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression, which are also risk factors for Alzheimer’s. And with age as the number one risk factor for Alzheimer’s, this puts the 49 percent of veterans who are aged 65 or older at greater risk for the disease than the general population.
One study reported that older veterans who have suffered a TBI are 60 percent more likely to develop dementia, and dementia onset occurs on average two years earlier than veterans without TBI. Another study showed that a diagnosis of PTSD doubles to quadruples the lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
This means those who served in Vietnam are at increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to their peers who never served. Similar trends are also expected in veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and Operation New Dawn (OND). In fact, according to a study, 22 percent of all combat wounds in Afghanistan and Iraq were brain injuries (twice the rate during Vietnam)—increasing the Alzheimer’s risk for these veterans.
The VA defines “Veterans who are minorities” as veterans who are identified as African Americans, Asian American/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Native American/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian.
Minority communities are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s. For instance, Latinos are one and a half times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and other dementias compared to white Americans. And older African Americans are approximately twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s and other dementia as older white Americans.
With minority veterans predicted to increase from 23.2 percent of the total veteran population in 2017 to 32.8 percent in 2037, it is important for these communities to advocate for their cognitive health and test early to prevent dementia.
What Veterans Can Do for Better Brain Health
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
If you are a veteran or care for a veteran, research shows that up to 40 percent of dementia cases can be prevented with modifiable lifestyle changes. This means maintaining healthy eating habits, regular exercise, adequate sleep, lower alcohol consumption, and quitting smoking are all important to lower the risk for dementia.
Test Early and Often
If you are a veteran and have concerns about dementia, visit your VA or physician and ask about a cognitive test. Obtain a baseline of your cognitive health so that changes over time can be tracked, and a plan put in place to slow its progression. You can also take a cognitive test remotely on any mobile device by clicking here.
Join a Study
Help researchers learn more about how this disease starts and develops, so that we can find a cure or treatment. Just as large studies of risk factors for heart disease led to the development of Statin drugs to reduce the risk of heart attack, population studies of cognition can point scientists to targets for the development of drugs and other therapies to slow or stop dementia.
Help and honor a veteran in your life. Participate in cutting-edge research and take us one step closer to winning the fight against Alzheimer’s and other dementia. Visit AssistStudy.org for more information or to sign-up!
Other Ways to Support Veterans
VeteransAgainstAlzheimer’s, a national network of veterans and their families, military leaders, veterans service organizations, researchers, and clinicians, focuses on raising awareness of Alzheimer’s disease as an urgent health issue for veterans. To find out ways to support veterans and dementia, click here.
Veterans and Alzheimer’s: Meeting The Crisis Head. (2017, October 2). VeteransAgainstalzheimer’s. Retrieved from https://www.usagainstalzheimers.org/sites/default/files/USA2_Veterans_Issue_Brief_April_10_2018.pdf
Veteran Population Projections 2017-2037. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/Demographics/New_Vetpop_Model/Vetpop_Infographic_Final31.pdf
Projections of the Prevalence and Incidence of Dementias Including Alzheimer’s Disease for the Total Veteran, Enrolled and Patient Populations Age 65 and Older. (2013, September). The Department of Veterans Affairs Central Office Geriatrics and Extend Care Services Program Office. Retrieved from https://www.va.gov/GERIATRICS/docs/Methodology_Paper_Projections_of_the_Prevalence_and_Incidence_of_Dementias_v5_FINAL.pdf
Veterans Network. (n.d.). UsAgainstAlzheimer’s. Retrieved from https://www.usagainstalzheimers.org/networks/veterans
Barnes, D. E., Kaup, A., Kirby, K. A., Byers, A. L., Diaz-Arrastia, R., & Yaffe, K. (2014). Traumatic brain injury and risk of dementia in older veterans. Neurology, 83(4), 312–319. https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000000616
Yaffe, K., Vittinghoff, E., Lindquist, K., Barnes, D., Covinsky, K. E., Neylan, T., Kluse, M., & Marmar, C. (2010). Posttraumatic stress disorder and risk of dementia among US veterans. Archives of general psychiatry, 67(6), 608–613. https://doi.org/10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.61
Sibener, L., Zaganjor, I., Snyder, H. M., Bain, L. J., Egge, R., & Carrillo, M. C. (2014). Alzheimer’s Disease prevalence, costs, and prevention for military personnel and veterans. Alzheimer’s & dementia : the journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, 10(3 Suppl), S105–S110. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2014.04.011
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