Alzheimer’s disease may be largely invisible, but it’s a pressing matter for the veteran community. Vets face unique risks for Alzheimer’s, often as a direct result of their service. Traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, multiple concussions, and depression are all contributing factors to the disease.
But today, UsAgainstAlzheimer’s launched VeteransAgainstAlzheimer’s, a new national network of veterans, their families, veterans service organizations, researchers, and physicians focused on raising awareness of the disease, and of the need for research.
The nonprofit has the goal of developing a cure, stopping the disease by 2020.
“This is not a disease apart of normal aging,” said George Vradenburg, president of UsAgainstAlzheimer’s. “This is a disease of mid-life that begins to kill basic functions of the brain, and then moves on to executive functions, eventually affecting the basic functions of your body.”
Nearly half of veterans are 65 or older, putting them at greater risk for the disease than the general population.
But younger vets aren’t immune as 22 percent of all combat wounds in Afghanistan and Iraq are brain injuries—almost double the rate seen during the Vietnam War. The bottom line is younger vets will have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s in the coming decades.
But not every veteran gets the help they need as vets can face barriers to Alzheimer’s diagnosis and care, including a confusing VA health system.
“My husband, Jim, retired after 23 years in the Air Force and thought he would be able to get help with his Younger Onset Alzheimer’s Disease,” said Karen Garner, caregiver to James Garner, a retired Senior Master Sergeant in the US Air Force. “But we were left to our own devices for non-medical help and assisted living.”
Jim passed away last year at the age of 52.
This new initiative is partnering with veteran service organizations, like the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“The VFW knows that this is a major issue for veterans – especially when data indicates that the risks associated with military service make veterans more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia,” said Bob Wallace, Executive Director, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.
“Through VeteransAgainstAlzheimer’s, we have the opportunity to bring together leading voices in the veteran community to promote brain health through action, research, and improved care.”