PTSD, Cognitive Impairment, and Impact on 9/11 RespondersDec 6, 2016
A new study has been published in the journal Alzheimer's and Dementia Diagnosis, Assessment and Disease Monitoring. Previous studies linked post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and cognitive impairment, but the new study is the first to reveal increased incidence of impairments in civilian responders to the 9/11 attacks who did not sustain head injuries.
The terror attack on the World Trade Center (WTC) on September 11, 2001, led researchers to study the effects of first responders as well as military veterans and others with PTSD. Studies confirmed a link between PTSD and the development of cognitive impairment. Cognitive impairment can involve problems with memory, language, thinking, and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes, reports the Mayo Clinic.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
PTSD is a variety of psychological symptoms deriving from a traumatic event. Cognitive impairment which is linked to Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, can interfere with daily life, including social relationships and work performance. The study suggests the possibility that trauma changes the brain in some ways, some of which are still not completely understood.
According to researchers at Stony Brook University, patients with PTSD should be monitored for indications of cognitive impairment, based on research consistently revealing one condition can be indicative of the other after especially traumatic experiences.
Research Initiatives Involving PTSD
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initiated a program in 2002 to monitor the health of police, firefighters, and other officials who took part in the search, rescue, and cleanup efforts after the 9/11 attack.
Over 33,000 responders enrolled in the WTC Health Program and approximately one-fifth have developed PTSD. These numbers make the results of the research significant.
Dr. Maria Carillo, chief science officer at the Alzheimer's Association, said in a press release, "This is a problem we must solve. The silver lining in these troubling new findings is that they will help us better understand the relationship between PTSD, cognition, and dementia. More research is needed in this area. This is crucial so that we can provide better care for all individuals who experience PTSD."
Researchers screened 818 responders for this study at Stony Brook University who reported for annual monitoring control visits for cognitive impairment and dementia. Approximately 12.8 percent of responders in the study had signs of cognitive impairment and 1.2 percent showed signs of possible dementia. Researchers took that data to estimate that overall between 3,740 to 5,300 responders may have cognitive impairment and 240 to 810 could possibly have dementia.
Dr. Sean Clouston, an assistant professor of public health at Stony Brook University said, "These numbers are staggering, considering that the average age of responders was 53 during this study. If our results are replicable, doctors need to be aware of the impact of cognitive impairment among individuals who have experienced traumatic events leading to PTSD. For example, cognitive impairment can compound the course of PTSD and depression, impairing the person beyond the impact of PTSD itself."
Additional study findings suggest that responders with cognitive impairment (CI) had lower education, non-law enforcement occupations, including construction or utility workers, older age, and were more likely to be current smokers than those without CI. Also, current PTSD and current major depressive disorders (MDD) remained significantly associated with CI after adjusting for education occupation, trauma severity, smoking status, hazardous drinking, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and respiratory disease, reports EurekAlert/Science News.
Dr. Clouston noted, "Our results support research nothing the importance of re-experiencing symptoms as an early marker of mental pathology." Re-experiencing symptoms occurs when individuals react physically and emotionally to memories of past trauma that intrude during daily activities and while asleep. Sleep disturbances are fundamental to PTSD and also have been linked to cognitive decline and dementia.
Zadroga Act Funds the WTC Health Programs and VCF
The Zadroga Act was first signed into law in 2011 and ensures that many 9/11 responders and survivors receive medical treatment and monitoring. Data from the WTC Health Program is used for many studies. The Zadroga Act also provides funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) which works with responders, survivors, and their families in providing compensation. This provides $3.5 billion to fund the WTC Health Program through the extension of the Zadroga Act to 2090.
Legal Help for 9/11 Responders and Survivors
Parker Waichman is proud to support workers, first responders, and other survivors and advocates, to ensure that efforts continue to safeguard and aid all those who were exposed to Ground Zero's toxic cloud and the trauma of the attacks of September 11. 2001. For information and free, no-obligation evaluation of a potential case, please contact our personal injury attorneys at 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).