JAMA logoKristine Yaffe, M.D., of the University of California, San Francisco, and San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and colleagues observed 181,093 veterans. The researchers revealed that older veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) appear more likely to develop dementia over a seven-year period than those without PTSD.

The research included veterans who were aged 55 years and above and the research was conducted between 1997 and 2000. It was identified that 53,155 had PTSD and 127,938 did not have PTSD. Veterans returning from warfare often face PTSD which is a common psychiatric symptom.

It was observed that 17 percent of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan had PTSD and 10-15 percent of Vietnam veterans had PTSD symptoms 15 years or longer after their return. Wide array of medical conditions in younger and middle-aged veterans have been associated to PTSD. A decrease in cognitive performance was observed.

The authors share that there are many reasons why patients with PTSD may have a greater risk of developing dementia. PTSD may contribute to the cause of dementia, or chronic stress may link the two conditions. Stress may damage the hippocampus, a brain area critical for memory and learning, or cause alterations in neurotransmitter and hormone levels that could precipitate dementia.

A follow-up of 7 years from 2000 to 2007 identified that 31,107 of veterans developed dementia. Veterans with PTSD had a 10.6 percent risk of advancing dementia. The risk among those who were not affected with dementia was 6.6 percent. The analyses were tuned for critical differences which included demographic variables and other medical and psychiatric illnesses. When these differences were tuned people with PTSD were more likely to develop dementia.

“The finding that PTSD is associated with a near doubling of the risk of dementia has important public health, policy and biological implications,” the authors conclude.

The researchers further say that patients with PTSD should be treated. Additional research is required in order to identify if treatment of PTSD will reduce the chances of being affected by dementia. PTSD patients with advanced age should be screened for cognitive impairment. They also added that mechanism relating PTSD with dementia should be identified. This would help them in enhancing the concern and outcomes of patients with PTSD.

A report in the June issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.