PTSD Can Mean Increased Risk of Dementia

In a new study, scientists have shown that people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are twice as likely to suffer from dementia in later life. This finding was shared in The British Journal of Psychiatry, on Tuesday.

The news of this increased risk comes at a crucial time, when the whole world is reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“PTSD, which appears to be common among people who have been hospitalized with Covid-19, remains an underdiagnosed, undertreated, and under researched mental health condition, yet it can have serious long-term consequences,” said senior author Vasiliki Orgeta, an associate professor in the division of¬†psychiatry at University College London, in a statement.

“Our study provides important new evidence of how traumatic experiences can impact brain health, and how the long-term effects of trauma may impact the brain in many ways increasing vulnerability to cognitive decline and dementia,” Orgeta said.

The pandemic according to experts can increase likelihood and incidence of post traumatic stress disorder in the people. Data from previous research shows that the disorder occurs when symptoms from a psychological trauma disrupt daily functioning for at least a month and we are already suffering from this pandemic for 7 months now.

Latest study from the Commonwealth Fund, also shows that almost a third of Americans are suffering from clinical symptoms of depression or generalized anxiety. On the other hand, Well Being Trust reports that as many as 75,000 Americans could die because of drug or alcohol misuse or suicide as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The risk for frontline workers, healthcare professionals and their families, is even more heightened as they see the aftereffects of the pandemic every day in form of deaths and are also more likely to suffer from COVID-19 and death. Other reports show that people on ventilators and requiring intubation have the highest rates of medical PTSD. According to Michigan Medicine’s department of psychiatry, ‚Äú35% of ICU survivors have clinically significant PTSD symptoms 2 years subsequent to the ICU care”.

Other data suggests that the severe acute respiratory syndrome that occurs in some patients with Covid-19 could infect the brain or trigger immune responses that are detrimental to brain function and mental health in patients.

In this study, the researchers looked at data from nearly 17 million people from 13 studies performed in different parts of the world. The data showed that people with PTSD faced a 1% to 2% higher risk of dementia up to 17 years later.

What was interesting was the finding that even though the PTSD is linked with military service, this population was not the one who suffered from the most burden of this ailment. People in the general population who suffered from issues like physical or sexual abuse, threat of death, car accidents, terrorism or other trauma, were actually more than twice as likely to develop dementia. People who served in the military and had PTSD were one and half times more likely to develop dementia than veterans without PTSD.

PTSD is a common disorder, with seven or eight people out of 100 suffering from this disorder in their lifetime. Also, women are more likely to suffer from PTSD than men, according to the National Center for PTSD, a program of the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

People who suffer from PTSD have symptoms like living the trauma again and again, increased heartbeat, increased sweating, recurring memories, nightmares, avoidance of the issue, effects on cognition and even emotional behavior. People can withdraw from society, can be easily startled, feel irritable, and have angry and aggressive outbursts.

Why PTSD is linked with increased risk of dementia is still not clear. But the study suggests that suffering from trauma again and again can flood the brain with stress hormones, which might lead to dementia. The study called for more research into this area of study.

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