9/11 happened almost 17 years ago. And yet, every single American still remembers where they were on that day. Researchers found that rescuers, witnesses and survivors have reported cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or simply PTSD. Sean Clouston, the lead researcher from Stony Brook University, has also found that there is a link between PTSD from 9/11 and symptoms of dementia.
PTSD and cognitive decline: The continued connection
This isn't the only study that has shown a connection between PTSD and dementia. In a study with veterans, researchers found that veterans with PTSD had double the risk of developing dementia. The study had a total of 181,093 55-year-old veterans with 53,155 of the veterans having PTSD. This study concluded that there is a significant correlation between PTSD and dementia.
The reason for this is that the stress experienced by those with PTSD is too strong to affect the part of the brain that is responsible for learning, which is the hippocampus. The hippocampus is responsible for learning and memory. If chronic stress affects it, then the end result will be dementia or other neurodegenerative conditions. Deborah Barnes, PhD, from the University of California, first coined this theory.
The idea to study PTSD in 9/11 survivors came from Professor Clouston in Stony Brook University. He tried see whether or not PTSD would be a cause or predictor of dementia.
In his study, he examined over 800 participants immediately after the attack in 2001. He found that those victims and witnesses who developed PTSD had double the risk of developing cognitive impairment. What’s worse is that those who mentally relive the attack have three times the risk of mental decline.
Clouston also found out that 13% of the 818 participants that his team tested had issues with memory and problem solving.. He also saw that 1% already exhibited the early symptoms of dementia. The results of his study correlate with the study by Deborah Barnes.
Both of their studies show that 9/11 survivors have a high risk of dementia. Clouston also remarked that those who suffered from PTSD from the World Trade Center Attack may have undergone the same stress as veterans who have been in a war.
Clouston stated that PTSD victims may not develop full-blown dementia, even if they already showsigns of mental decline. This meant that it was possible for a patient to have some sort of mental decline without even knowing it. It was also observed by the researchers that there were certain demographic and behavioral factors that affected those who developed mental decline through PTSD. They noticed that most of the respondents who had a mental impairment and PTSD had lower education and had jobs that entailed manual labor.
Furthermore, Clouston’s team also found that these participants were older (mostly 53 years of age) and are smokers. This is why the team of researchers took into account these factors and others including severity of trauma, drinking habits, and other health conditions that affect the brain. The study’s findings were published in the Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring journal.
The treatments for PTSD can and should be used for 9/11 survivors
As part of the study, Clouston also mentioned some possible treatments that can aid patients who have PTSD. If PTSD leads to dementia in the future, then the best way to treat9/11 survivors with traumatic experiences would be to lessen the stress the trauma causes on their brains.
He notes that the two types of treatments that are effective for PTSD are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Pharmacological Medicines. He mentioned that serotonin inhibitors are effective. Clouston also writes in his study that 70.8% of the participants who were confirmed to have PTSD are undergoing treatment.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in particular, might be effective for the long-term. Clouston suggested that reliving the traumatic memories may be the main cause of mental impairment. Other causes could be biological factors, like an increase in allostatic load. Because symptoms of PTSD reoccur, more research has to be done.
These findings will also have an impact on how clinicians will treat patients who have PTSD. These results will prompt clinicians to know that there is a high risk of PTSD who have mental impairment.
Alzheimer's disease does not have any cure. But, there are treatments
While there are efforts to aid 9/11 victims with PTSD, what about those who already have symptoms of dementia? The only way to help would be to treat and maintain the disease so it won’t affect their routine.
As of now, there is no available cure for Alzheimer’s. However, there are a few drugs that have been approved for treatment. Two notable medicines include Cholinesterase Inhibitors, such as Donepezil and Galantamine, and a Receptor Antagonist named Memantine. The Cholinesterase Inhibitors work by decreasing the speed of the breaking down of neurotransmitters in the brain to slow down the disease's symptoms.
Receptor Antagonists, on the other hand, regulate glutamate, a neurotransmitter that is key in learning and memory. By regulating these neurotransmitters, cell damage from too much exposure of glutamate to calcium gets prevented. Again, this medicine can only slow down and maintain the disease. There is no evidence that it can cure Alzheimer’s.