PTSD and Dementia: An Unclear Relationship

Awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological issues related to trauma has been particularly high over the past year, as increasing numbers of returning veterans struggle with the condition. However, troops deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq are not the first large group to suffer PTSD. Of veterans who are today older than 65 and who have been treated, for any condition, by the Veterans Administration, PTSD rates are around 36.4 percent. Some veterans with PTSD were directly injured during combat, while others were not injured but did experience the psychological trauma of combat itself.

A recent study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, shows that veterans with PTSD are more likely to suffer dementia than other groups are. Of the more than 10,000 veterans in the study, 36.4% of the entire group had PTSD. Their PTSD was found to be a stronger indicator of dementia even than traumatic injury, which can result in brain damage and cognitive alteration. Here are the statistics: among wounded veterans, 5.9% of the non-PTSD group had dementia, while 7.2% of the PTSD veterans did. Among the veterans who were not wounded, 4.5% of the non-PTSD group had dementia, while 11.1% of the PTSD veterans did.

Despite showing that PTSD makes veterans more likely to develop dementia, the study did not explore or uncover the relationship between the two conditions. It could be that PTSD speeds up dementia, or that both have some characteristics in common. It’s also unknown whether adequate treatment for PTSD, through counseling, skills training, and psychotherapy, will reduce the onset of dementia. This study’s authors suggest that further research needs to be done. The more we know about this connection, the better we can understand exactly what mental health services will best benefit both veterans with PTSD as well as survivors of trauma from the civilian population.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • heather roberts

    heather roberts

    September 2nd, 2010 at 9:46 AM

    although the relationship is yet to become very clear,there sure seems to be something relating the two and it is the responsibility of the armed forces to ensure that veterans do not have to go through such problems for having served their is for the forces to ensure a quality life for all their veterans.

  • George


    September 2nd, 2010 at 10:29 PM

    My uncle was in the army for many years & now he is suffering from dementia in his old age. He did not exhibit PTSD but was always excited & quite animated while describing all the experiences that he had during his time in the army. Its sad now to see him having dementia though.

  • tonya


    September 3rd, 2010 at 2:59 AM

    seeing blood gives me major jitters…seeing such things as a part of your every day routine could be a big blow for these people who even work in harsh conditions and stay away from their families for months and even years…all this could really take its toll on a person’s mental health and dementia could be an implication later on

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