Military Risk Factors for Cognitive Decline, Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Dallas P. Veitch, Karl E. Friedl and Michael W. Weiner
Affiliation: Center for Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases, Veterans Medical Center and Departments of Radiology, Medicine, Psychiatry and Neurology, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA.
Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease, armed forces, combat, depression, gulf war illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, risk factors,
traumatic brain injury.
Delayed neurological health consequences of environmental exposures during military service have been generally
underappreciated. The rapidly expanding understanding of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathogenesis now makes it
possible to quantitate some of the likely long-term health risks associated with military service. Military risk factors for
AD include both factors elevated in military personnel such as tobacco use, traumatic brain injury (TBI), depression, and
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other nonspecific risk factors for AD including, vascular risk factors such as
obesity and obesity-related diseases (e.g., metabolic syndrome), education and physical fitness. The degree of combat exposure,
Vietnam era Agent Orange exposure and Gulf War Illness may also influence risk for AD. Using available data on
the association of AD and specific exposures and risk factors, the authors have conservatively estimated 423,000 new
cases of AD in veterans by 2020, including 140,000 excess cases associated with specific military exposures. The cost associated
with these excess cases is approximately $5.8 billion to $7.8 billion. Mitigation of the potential impact of military
exposures on the cognitive function of veterans and management of modifiable risk factors through specifically designed
programs will be instrumental in minimizing the impact of AD in veterans in the future decades.
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