The stress due to some untoward happening or traumatic experience may continue for an extended period and lead to irreparable cognitive defects, resulting in memory loss at an early stage. Reaction to stressful events may range from mild or moderate to extreme in many cases, though not all lead to chronic problems.
While most people exhibit resilience to most traumatic experiences, it was observed that the first responders engaged in the search, rescue and recovery tasks during the attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) in 2001 had undergone myriad traumatic and toxic exposures. A close observation of mental conditions of the responders revealed that nearly 20 percent suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the incident.
As the effect of PTSD has been associated with dementia in veterans, some researchers tried to understand the link between PTSD resulting from the WTC attack and the deterioration of cognitive abilities in the WTC responders.
Traumatic experiences affect cognitive abilities
A recent study, titled “Cognitive impairment among World Trade Center responders: long-term implications of re-experiencing the 9/11 terrorist attacks,” tried to assess the after effects on the mental health of 818 first responders of WTC attack.
The study, published online in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring in August 2016, tested the responders, aged approximately 53 years, who had been reporting for yearly monitoring visits for impairment in their cognitive abilities and potential signs of dementia by making use of the Montreal Cognitive Assessment from January, 2014 to April, 2015.
Simultaneous detections of PTSD and symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD) other than periodical signs of PTSD and depression collected since 2002 were also looked at. The details were assessed in relation with the current manifestations of cognitive impairment exhibited by the WTC responders.
Cognitive impairment and dementia seen in PTSD patients
The scientists found that nearly 12.8 percent respondents showed signs of cognitive impairment while 1.2 percent exhibited symptoms of possible dementia. Results indicated that re-experiencing symptoms were constantly linked with cognitive impairment, whereas aggravation in signs of PTSD and depression in the period prior to screening of the responders were found only among those with cognitive impairment.
A detailed evaluation of the observations obtained also pinpointed that the responders diagnosed with PTSD and cognitive impairment suffered from disadvantage of poor education and were in greater likelihood of being employed in menial jobs as utility or construction workers, being aged smokers when contrasted with those not afflicted with any kind of mental illness.
Need to screen chronic PTSD patients with possible cognitive impairment
The observations derived from analyses accentuated the impact of re-experiencing signs, which is a major characteristic of PTSD and was persistently predictive of cognitive impairment even after 14 years. Elucidating the results obtained, lead author of the study Dr. Sean Clouston, an assistant professor of family population and preventive medicine at Stony Brook University in New York, said, “People with PTSD, regardless from where they get it, are more likely to have cognitive impairment earlier.”
More than 33,000 responders have been enrolled in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-sponsored WTC Health Program since 2002. As per an evaluation by the authors of the study, if the results obtained after assessment of their sample represent the actual incidence of cognitive impairment in the entire cohort, the findings obtained may translate into 3,740-5,300 responders suffering from cognitive impairment and 240-810 individuals afflicted with dementia. Clouston added, “These numbers are staggering, considering that the average age of responders was 53 during this study. If our results are replicable, doctors need to be aware of the impact of cognitive impairment among individuals who have experienced traumatic events leading to PTSD.”
Recovery from mental problems is possible
Looking at the incidence of so many PTSD-affected people being potential victims of cognitive impairment, a strong need is felt to screen as many patients of PTSD for possible afflictions of the same. The effect of cognitive impairment and dementia can push the progression of PTSD in patients and can affect their ability to remember taking their medicines, seeking appointments, getting themselves regularly screened by experts, among others.
If you or your loved one is suffering from any kind of mental problems, including PTSD, get in touch with the California Mental Health Helpline for information on mental health treatment centers in California. Contact at our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923 or chat online for advice regarding existing psychological rehabilitation centers in California.