If you have been following health news, especially news related to neurocognitive disorders, you may have heard that there is scientific data that shows a link between PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and dementia, which is any number of neurocognitive disorders that can affect the brain and lead to memory loss. It is also worth noting that the very medication prescribed to treat PTSD may be the primary contributing factor. These findings were the end result of a study conducted by the University of Iowa that analyzed data of over 3 million veterans who experienced PTSD during or after their service. In this article, we will take a closer look at PTSD amongst veterans and how medication can either trigger or worsen the condition.
PTSD AND DEMENTIA
Before exploring the link between PTSD and dementia, let’s take a moment to better understand each neurocognitive disorder individually:
Post-traumatic stress disorder is described as a mental health disorder that stems from witnessing or experiencing a terrifying act or series of events. The symptoms associated with this disorder typically include severe anxiety, irrational thoughts, flashbacks, and nightmares. Also, those with PTSD often have a hard time adjusting or coping with life following the traumatic event that triggered the condition.
Dementia is a decline in cognitive function, which can be triggered by any number of symptoms affecting the brain and is generally precipitated by Alzheimer’s disease. The cognitive symptoms associated with dementia often include memory loss, difficulty communicating, confusion, disorientation, and an inability to handle complex tasks.
PTSD PREVALENCE AMONGST VETERANS
According to a study conducted by the University of Iowa, which was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, veterans who take medication for PTSD are more likely to be diagnosed with dementia than those who do not take medication. The study also revealed that veterans with PTSD are more likely to develop dementia even without taking medication to treat the condition. Adding to that, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs states that more than 7 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in lives due to life-threatening experiences during times of war. To that point, studies show that 12 percent of Gulf War veterans, as well as 15 percent of Vietnam War veterans, have officially been diagnosed with the condition.
In reaching their findings, researchers at the University of Iowa compiled and analyzed data of more than 3 million U.S. veterans with a median age of 68 years and concluded that certain medications significantly increases the likelihood of developing dementia. It is also worth noting that nearly 23,000 study participants who were diagnosed with PTSD but showed no signs of cognitive decline were diagnosed with dementia while the study was still ongoing. The study also revealed that veterans who used certain antidepressants, antipsychotics, and serotonin reuptake inhibitors had a disproportionately higher risk of developing dementia than those with or without PTSD who were not taking these particular medications
HOW DEPRESSION INDIRECTLY CONTRIBUTES OF DEMENTIA
Because many of the same psychotropic medications are used to treat depression, researchers believe that they could also trigger the onset of dementia for both veterans and non-veterans alike. However, researchers caution that further research is needed to determine how factors like dosage, duration, and indications for use plays a role in the overall development of the disease that causes a loss of cognitive function. In addition, more research is needed to determine if another psychiatric comorbidity is also a factor or if medication is only driving force. All in all, dementia appears to stem from the treatments used to combat depression while PTSD, on the other hand, can lead to dementia with or without taking medication to treat the condition.