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Link between PTDS and Dementia

Links Between PTSD and Dementia Bring an Increased Risk for Veterans

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or “PTSD” as most of us know it, is a condition occurring when an individual experiences a severe reaction after experiencing extreme trauma. PTSD can last months or even years, often triggered by a situation that brings back the memory.

While PTSD can occur in anyone who has experienced a high level of trauma, it is often found in men and women who have served in the armed forces. In the past it was often referred to as “shell shock” and, unfortunately, regarded as more of a weakness than a disorder. In the 1980’s however, PTSD was finally taken out of the shadows and recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as meriting the same level of research and attention as other disorders. Today, PTSD impacts over 13 million Americans.  

Veterans with PTSD have almost double the risk of developing dementia.

Increased research into PTSD over recent years has uncovered other significant findings. One is a link between PTSD and the development of dementia.

According to the National Center for PTSD, 7% of veterans have PTSD. The Alzheimer’s Association cites studies conducted with these veterans, which found that their risk of developing dementia is almost double those without PTSD.

These studies note that, while there is no single contributing factor, the added stress hormones being released due to PTSD episodes may play a role in reduced cognition. This can lead to depression and isolation which can make an individual more vulnerable to developing dementia, in particular frontotemporal dementia.

For many veterans, traumatic brain injury (TBI) also brings increased risk.

Frontotemporal dementia affects the frontal and/or temporal lobes of the brain and is often developed due to blunt force trauma to the head. This is referred to diagnostically as traumatic brain injury or TBI, and it is something more likely to occur in combat.

While TBI can range from mild to severe, the experience can increase a veteran’s likelihood of developing frontotemporal dementia as well as Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. If that TBI is severe, the risk is increased.

How should veterans and their families address these challenges?

Along with greater awareness of the links between PTSD, TBI and dementia come better resources for families of veterans who are experiencing symptoms. The Alzheimer’s Association has some tips which we’ve summarized below:

For veterans:

Get checked for both PTSD and dementia as soon as possible. Early diagnosis brings many benefits including:

  • More availability of treatment options
  • Opportunity to participate in clinical trials
  • Time to make financial, legal, and health plans

For families:

First, know the warning signs of dementia. For veterans who have experienced PTSD, there may be several behavioral changes as well, which may include:

  • Experiencing heightened anxiety
  • Showing increased signs of depression
  • Having delusions and suspicions
  • Showing increased anger and aggressive behavior

It is important to note that not all veterans with PTSD who are developing dementia will exhibit these behaviors. However, anything outside their normal behavior patterns should be noted and addressed.

The Alzheimer’s Association has more resources with coping strategies and recommendations which families can access here.

Many of the residents at our Anthem Memory Care communities are veterans and we understand their special challenges and needs. Feel free to reach out to us with your questions and concerns. We will be happy to provide you with information and resources to help you and your family.