Stress disorder ups dementia risk in older veterans

Mon Jul 13, 2009 12:41pm EDT
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Older veterans who have had post-traumatic stress disorder have nearly double the risk of dementia than other veterans, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

The findings, presented at an Alzheimer's Association meeting in Vienna, are the first to link PTSD -- a debilitating anxiety disorder that can be caused by wartime trauma -- with dementia.

"The million-dollar question is why," Dr. Ronald Petersen of the Alzheimer's Association and an Alzheimer's researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said in a telephone interview.

Some studies have found PTSD was linked with diminished brain volume in the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory and stress response.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, which is marked by a loss of memory and other cognitive, or thinking, abilities, including the ability to speak, identify objects or think abstractly.

Some older veterans with PTSD have shown signs of cognitive declines. Dr. Kristine Yaffe of the University of California, San Francisco, analyzed data on 53,155 veterans diagnosed with PTSD and 127,938 veterans without PTSD, using the Department of Veterans Affairs National Patient Care Database.

Veterans in the study had an average age of 69.

More than 10 percent of veterans with PTSD developed new cases of dementia, compared with 6.6 percent of those who did not have PTSD.   Continued...