Alzheimer's Foundation of America

Foundation of America

Combatting Dementia Among Veterans

Military service is a significant commitment, and we should always honor and appreciate the men and women who served in the American armed forces. Clearly though, it’s not without its share of personal risks. Among them, veterans may have an increased risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well traumatic brain injury (TBI) which may contribute to memory impairments and can increase dementia risk.

According to a University of California study with the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Office, vets with PTSD were more than twice as likely to develop dementia compared to those without. Among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the prevalence of PTSD has been estimated at 17%. Additionally, PTSD can be a chronic condition. Vietnam veterans have been found to have a 20% to 30% lifetime prevalence of combat-related PTSD. A study of older World War II and Korean veterans found that the PTSD prevalence remained as high as 12% even 45 years after combat.

Increased risk of PTSD and TBI make memory screenings even more important for vets.

In addition to PTSD, veterans’ exposure to explosions during combat and training exercises increases their risk of traumatic brain injury (TBI), another serious risk factor for dementia. Nearly 414,000 TBIs were reported among U.S. service members worldwide between 2000 and late 2019, according to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC). Older veterans who had a TBI diagnosis were 60% more likely to develop dementia over a nine-year period, according to U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs studies. Another study concluded that veterans who had been Prisoners of War (POWs) had about a 50% greater risk of developing dementia. Those who have been POWs and developed PTSD had more than double the risk.

Obviously, this issue is of keen interest and concern to the medical community.

“PTSD and TBI are two of the most common problems affecting veterans throughout the U.S., and they frequently occur together, making it difficult to know which problem is causing what issue. Veterans with these conditions frequently have chronic complaints of memory difficulties and other cognitive problems. Such dysfunction is best discovered by memory screenings, which are objective screening tools,” said J. Wesson Ashford, MD, PhD, Chair of AFA’s Medical, Scientific, and Memory Screening Advisory Board and Director, War-Related Illness and Injury Study Center at the VA Palo Alto HealthCare System. “Afflicted veterans would be provided long-term care management to help them cope more effectively and actively pursue healthy lifestyle choices and good self-care, which may reduce dementia risk later in life.”


It’s a series of simple questions to gauge memory, language, thinking skills, and other intellectual functions. Results are provided and explained at the end of the screening, which normally takes 10 to 15 minutes. Results are not a diagnosis, but can suggest if a person should see a physician for a fuller evaluation.

Many doctors’ offices provide memory screenings, and they are part of the annual Medicare Wellness Visit for those 65 and older. AFA also offers free virtual memory screenings every Monday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET, and every Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET. Veterans can make an appointment by calling 866-232-8484. Screenings are conducted one-on-one by a qualified professional through a secure video conference in real time. A computer, smartphone or tablet containing a webcam is all that is needed.

This article originally appeared in Alzheimer’s TODAY, Volume 15, Number 4, published by AFA. View the entire issue here.