Dementia and PTSD in Veterans and Victims of War

by Christine Kennard Health Professional

There are so many wars and conflicts going on in the world today. Whether they are won or lost, whether 'just' or not, there is still a price to pay in terms of human suffering and misery that can last for as long as the person lives.

Many studies reveal how past traumas can haunt war veterans, victims of conflicts and holocaust survivors. As people age their previous exposure to trauma is adversely affecting them. For example there is a higher risk of dementia in veterans who suffered post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), altered brain structure associated with PTSD, and increased vulnerability to neuropsychiatric disorders caused by PTSD.

A study of 10,481 veterans over the age of 65 who attended the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Texas found that about 30 percent of Vietnam War veterans and 12 to 20 percent of Iraq War veterans have dementia. Yaffe et al (2010) also found in a predominately male sample of 181,093 veterans that those who had suffered PTSD had a twofold increased risk of developing dementia against those veterans who had not.

Dr. Deirdre Johnson assistant professor of psychiatry at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center found that World War II and Korean War veterans who develop dementia risk unlocking painful war memories that trigger episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Memories previously suppressed are remembered and PTSD can either reappear or be the cause of a first time episode.

There has also been a lot of research into the problems of how victims of the Holocaust are finding increasing deterioration in their mental health, chronic anxiety, phobic states, depression, substance abuse, sleep problems directly associated with their holocaust experiences. Cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and chronic infectious diseases were also an issue.

Although the mechanism between trauma and dementia has yet to be unraveled, the simple fact remains that we pay a huge and ongoing price when subjected to trauma. As personal trauma comes about in ways other than armed conflict it would be interesting to establish the extent to which personal trauma's influences our risk for developing neurological disorders like Alzheimer's in later life.

Christine Kennard
Meet Our Writer
Christine Kennard

Christine Kennard wrote about Alzheimer's for HealthCentral. She has many years of experience in private and public sector nursing care homes for people with dementia. She has worked in a variety of hospital, public and private health settings and specialized in community nursing. Christine is qualified in group analytic psychotherapy, is registered in general and mental health nursing and has a Masters degree.