Healthy Living

Study Plans to Prevent Veterans from Developing Alzheimer’s

Study Plans to Prevent Veterans from Developing Alzheimer’s

War can destroy cities, cultures, and more… but one of the longest lasting impacts that war often has is on those who fight in the war.  Following a war, veterans are often left with a huge transition to make, as they attempt to assimilate into society following deployment.  One of the greatest struggles that come with this is the mental damage veterans encounter, which can often include a variety of mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety

A research effort being carried out by the University of Wisconsin, as well as Veterans Affairs, has the intention of discovering a new method to prevent another extremely harmful mental disorder that can exist following a war: Alzheimer’s disease.  The study’s goal is to find how exactly medical facilities can best prevent or at least delay the severe symptoms that are common with Alzheimer’s. 

Along of the lines of this study, Dr. Cynthia Carlsson, an associate professor of medicine as well as geriatric at the University of Wisconsin, stated that, “We know that veterans, especially VA eligible veterans, have a higher risk of developing dementia, and it is not clear, but they think it might be partly related to having more vascular risk factors, they have more depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.”  If successful, the study very well could shed some light on an important potential insight and solution for the veteran community.

The study, deemed the Brave Study, intends to follow a total of 150 veterans.  The criteria include the following: each participant must have at least one parent with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and their respective age must fall in between 50 and 75 years old.  Each of the subjects in the study will be observed for eighteen months, with a few baselines as a reference established in the beginning of the study.  After the first 9 months of the study, participants will be reevaluated, and then again at the end of the 18 months (with each evaluation referencing the baseline results established at the beginning of the study). 

The research effort will be set up by assigning half of the total test population with a high dosage of fish oil to take on a consistent basis through the entirety of the study.  The fish oil is expected to maintain sufficient blood flow to the brain, subsequently reducing the likelihood that the test patients are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease (or if they are in fact diagnosed, slow the symptoms associated with the disease).

This research effort, funded by the Veterans Affair and made possible with the resources at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital as well as at the University of Wisconsin, will require a variety of tests relevant to the test subject’s mental health.  During the study, researchers and specialists will be responsible for observing the participant’s respective traits by conducting baseline tests. 

These tests will include a spinal fluid test, a cognitive test, as well as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan in order to analyze the patient’s blood flow to the brain.  These key traits will help the researchers track of the potential progress of the fish oil dosages, ultimately exposing the regimen’s effectiveness (or lack thereof).  

If successful, however, the medical community very well could be on their way towards finding a solution to the crisis.  One statistic, as discovered by the United States Government Accountability Office, had found that within a 5 year time period from 2006 to 2010 a total of 2.1 million veterans were administered some form of mental health treatment from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.  As can be seen, by the statistic mentioned, the problem is severe, and very well could worsen if not properly addressed.

Relevant studies

Over time, a variety of studies have been conducted in order best grasp the crisis of mental disorders prevalent amongst war veterans.  In doing so, these efforts have strived to introduce solutions and shed light on the unfortunate problem existent today.  One study, led by Ronald D. Hester and published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “shows that the shortcomings of our [the United States] healthcare system in addressing the mental health needs for our returning veterans may lead to the high suicide rates.”  The research effort had the desire to expose the fact that the absence of mental health treatment subsequently led to higher rates of suicide amongst the veteran community. 

The study mentioned above was made possible when “Schoembaum and Kessler examined common mental health disorders among Army participants and whether the disorder developed prior to entering the Army.”  One statistic mentioned in the study stated that “More than 1.5 million of the 5.5 million veterans seen in VA hospitals had a mental health diagnosis in 2016.”  This statistic served as the very foundation for the research surrounding the phenomenon.  The research effort ultimately concluded that more effort is required in order to address the all too apparent problem that exists today with the United States veteran community. 

Along these lines, the study points out that, “We must do more to reach out to the veterans who are served by the VA Medical System and those that are currently not being served by the Veterans Administration System, but by our private and public health care system, to ensure that they get the help that they need.”

Alzheimer’s disease has impacted more than 5 million individuals a year and proves to be the most common form of dementia diagnosed for patients aged 65 years and older.  The severe condition is defined as a disease that breaks down one’s ability to remember things, with other serious effects that change the affected patients normal mental and physical state.  The most common symptoms associated with the disease include memory loss, the inability to process information correctly and make sense of information struggles performing the simplest of tasks such as washing the dishes, as well as noticeable changes in one’s personality and behavior.  The cause of the neurological illness can be attributed to a variety of environmental factors (in the case of the studies mentioned above- war), however, the condition is rarely tied to certain changes in genetics.

The future for veterans with Alzheimer’s

As alluded to in this piece, mental illness as a whole is a serious problem for soldiers coming back home following deployment.  Much of the potential progress in treating Alzheimer’s disease and the other mental illnesses obtained by veterans will depend on a variety of key factors.  One of these includes growth in the research efforts surrounding the phenomenon.  If sufficient funds are acquired for these research efforts, solutions such as the one proposed above are more likely to be discovered. 

Lastly, one of the other key courses of actions that must be taken to better improve the mental state of the United States veterans is creating more awareness of the problem.  In doing this, the general population will better be able to comprehend the struggles that veterans face in their day to day lives, which can ultimately better the veteran community as a whole.