• New research finds that people with PTSD who do not receive treatment have a higher risk of developing dementia later in life.
  • This research also finds that veterans diagnosed with PTSD (who are more likely to receive treatment for PTSD compared with the general population) have a reduced risk of future dementia than others.
  • According to the team of researchers, consistent “fight or flight” triggers sent through the brain cause damage leading to dementia.
  • Untreated PTSD also causes other dementia inducing risk factors such as depression, social isolation, and an increase in alcohol consumption.
  • Other risk factors such as smoking, hearing loss, lack of education, living alone, and negative thinking could also increase the likelihood of developing dementia.

Quick Summary

A new study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry “Post-traumatic stress disorder as a risk factor for dementia: systematic review and meta-analysis” finds that people with PTSD have a 61% higher risk of developing dementia. Researchers also found that in populations such as veterans who are more likely to seek treatment for PTSD have a reduced future dementia risk than those without treatment.

Goals

For those who struggle with PTSD, it’s no secret that it can be difficult to recover from. In order to overcome symptoms of PTSD, a lot of emotional work has to be done including addressing triggers and changing the thoughts associated with them. The goal of this study was to determine if there are long-lasting effects of PTSD associated with dementia to in turn educate those with the disorder about the importance of early prevention.

Investigation

 To figure out what links there may be between PTSD and dementia, researchers analyzed the findings from 13 studies across the globe, totaling over 1.5 million participants. The goal was to find if a PTSD diagnosis was associated with an increased risk in dementia almost two decades later. They used random and fixed-effects meta-analyses to gather data across the studies.

Traumatic experiences have a lasting impact on the brain. With PTSD, those negative triggers can fire frequently enough that it can cause a negative impact on the brain’s health. Most people don’t always reach out for help, unlike the Veteran population, oftentimes because of the stigma surrounding mental health. However, by not getting the help they need, it allows the brain to continually face long-lasting impacts of trauma caused by past stressors. These stressors put the brain into a “fight or flight” mode, also causing people to withdraw from social life in order to decrease the chances of having those stressful feelings arise.

Findings

With information from 8 of the 13 studies, researchers were able to determine that people with PTSD faced a 61% higher risk of dementia. Untreated, PTSD also increases the likelihood of developing other risk factors for dementia, including depression, social isolation, and increase in excessive alcohol consumption.

Limitations

This study was based solely after previously conducted research. Because the researchers got their information from other findings, it could pose discrepancies in information. Additional factors such as poor education, hearing loss, smoking, negative thinking, and living alone can also increase the risk of dementia. A separate study that is conducted solely on the basis of dementia amongst people with PTSD could prove more cohesive and precise results.

Implications

Access to treatment is important for those with PTSD as it can greatly reduce, if not prevent, the risk of developing later conditions like dementia. Trauma therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing are a few treatment methods for this condition. These different types of therapies aim to directly address the stressors that invoke PTSD responses and change the behaviors associated with them. Changing reactions allows the brain to stop firing negative responses.

Sources

(2020, September 20). PTSD May Double Risk of Dementia. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved September 21, 2020 from https://neurosciencenews.com/ptsd-dementia-17056/

Günak, M. M., Billings, J., Carratu, E., & Marchant, N. L. (2020). Post-traumatic stress disorder as a risk factor for dementia: systematic review and meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry. Retrieved September 21, 2020 from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-as-a-risk-factor-for-dementia-systematic-review-and-metaanalysis/2C7CB7708472ADAE1484C8E658D8F892

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Madison Bambini

Madison Bambini is a Communications Coordinator at Thriveworks. She received her bachelor's degree from VCU in mass communications, focusing on digital journalism and broadcast journalism. She also minored in gender, sexuality, and women's studies. Coupled with her love for writing, Madison enjoys producing content that is inclusive, empowering, and promotes the importance of mental health.

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