Does PTSD put 9/11 responders at risk of dementia?

Firefighters head south on the West Side Highway towards the remains of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. (Credit: Gabe Palacio/Getty Images)

There may be a link between chronic PTSD in 9/11 responders and neurodegeneration, a pilot study finds.

The physical and cognitive health of 9/11 World Trade Center responders remains a concern for healthcare professionals who care for the thousands of responders, many of whom continue to experience conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

The study tested neuronal biomarkers in the plasma of 34 responders. Half of them had symptoms of PTSD. The average age of the responders at blood draw was 53 years. The investigators found that those with PTSD symptoms had changes in amyloid-beta levels and other neuronal alterations in blood often associated with neurodegenerative diseases of aging, including Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, when compared to responders without PTSD.

The findings are preliminary yet significant enough to expand and replicate the analyses in the patient population, according to lead researcher Sean Clouston, associate professor in the department of family population and preventive medicine in the Program in Public Health at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University,

Benjamin Luft, coauthor and director of the university’s WTC Health and Wellness Program, emphasizes the need to carefully evaluate and monitor these patients to determine whether they develop clinical evidence of cognitive impairment—something that is not yet clear.

The study appears in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring.

Partial support for the research comes from the National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

Source: Stony Brook University