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Weiss: Analysis Says That Aging Veterans at Greater Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

Monday, October 02, 2017


On Monday, October 2, at a press conference  USAgainstAlzheimer’s, (UsA2), along with veterans groups, plan to release an issue brief, “Veterans and Alzheimer’s Meeting the Crisis Head on,” with data indicating that many older veterans will face a unique risk factor for Alzheimer’s as a direct result of their military service.  

Following the release of this issue brief, on Tuesday evening at a reception in room 106 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, UsA2, a Washington, DC-based Alzheimer’s advocacy group whose mission is to stop Alzheimer’s disease by 2020, will launch VeteransAgainstAlzheimer’s (VA2), a national network of veterans and their families, military leaders, veterans groups, researchers, and clinicians, to focus on raising awareness of the impact of Alzheimer’s and other dementias on active and retired military service members. 

Dramatic Increase in Veterans with Alzheimer’s

Forty nine percent of those aging veterans age 65 ((WW2, Korea, Vietnam and even younger veterans, from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts in the coming decades), are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s compared to 15 percent of nonveterans over age 65, note the authors of the issue brief.  “There is a clear and compelling obligation for greater support to meet the needs of veterans with Alzheimer, they say.   

The issue brief pulls together research study findings released by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA).  On study estimates that more than 750,000 older veterans have Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, another noting that the number of enrollee with Alzheimer’s grew 166 percent from roughly 145,000 in 2004 to 385,000 in 2014.         

The “Minority communities are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s and minority veterans are predicted to increase from 23.2 percent of the total veteran population in 2017 to 32.8 percent in 2037, says a VA study.

The issue brief also cites study findings that indicate that older veterans who have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are 60 percent are more likely to develop dementia,  Twenty-two percent of all combat wounds in Afghanistan and Iraq were brain injuries, nearly double the rate seen during Vietnam – increasing these younger veterans’ lifetime Alzheimer’s risk.

 Veterans also face a multitude of barriers to effective Alzheimer’s diagnosis and care, including a complex Veteran’s Administration health system, a lack of understanding about available benefits, and a stigma related to brain and mental health, say issue brief authors.

George Vradenburg, UsA2’s Chairman and Co-Founder, sums up the message to Congress and federal and state policy makers in the released issue brief: “We need to understand so much more about why brain injuries sustained in battle put veterans at greater risk for Alzheimer’s.  We must encourage veterans to participate in clinical studies to learn about the long-term effects of brain injuries, so we can do everything in our power to mitigate the impact on those who have given so much to this country.”         

A Call for Funding…

When former Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts released Rhode’s Alzheimer’s plan in 2013, to guide and coordinate the state’s efforts to care for those with debilitating Alzheimer’s and those who care for them, she called the report a ”living document, ” to be continuing updated as needed.  With the 5-year update of the State’s plan being due June 2019, to be submitted to the Rhode Island General Assembly, Lt. Gov. Dan McKee and the Executive Board of the Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders working group, roll up their sleeves to meet that legislative deadline.   

McKee and his Alzheimer’s plan working group are now turning to philanthropic organizations, like the Rhode Island Foundation, to fund their efforts to update the State’s Alzheimer’s plan.  Yes, it costs money to do this and with the incidence of Alzheimer’s increasing in the Ocean State, lawmakers and state policy makers need an updated plan to provided them with a road map to effectively utilize state resources and dollars to provide care for those afflicted with debilitating cognitive disorder.

In 2013, 24,000 Rhode Islanders were afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders and this number will continue to grow each year.  With the state being so small, every Rhode Islander is personally touched, either caring for a family member with the cognitive disorder or knowing someone who is a caregiver or patient.

Funding from the Rhode Island General Assembly and philanthropic organizations are needed to get the ball rolling on the state Alzheimer’s plan.  When updating, don’t forget the needs of Rhode Island’s aging veterans.

Founded in 2010, UsAgainstAlzheimer’s has worked to secure the national goal of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s by 2025 and to assist in securing nearly $500 million in additional public funding for Alzheimer’s research over the past few years.  The nonprofit’s global efforts has influenced the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations, the G7, to embrace a similar 2025 goal and to call for greater levels of research investment and collaboration to combat Alzheimer’s . Finally, UsAgainstAlzheimer’s works to forge pharmaceutical industry commitments to improve efficiencies for an expedited drug discovery and approval process. For more information click here. 

For details on the updating of Rhode Island’s Alzheimer’s Plan, call the office of Lt. Gov. Dan McKee at (401) 222-2371.


Herb Weiss, LRI’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, healthcare and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.


Related Slideshow: 25 Ways to Celebrate Veterans in New England - 2017

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