A new UsAgainstAlzheimer’s report, Veterans and Alzheimer’s: Meeting the Crisis Head On, shows that Alzheimer’s disease is both an urgent health care challenge among older veterans and a long-term threat to younger veterans. Each group faces unique Alzheimer’s risk factors tied directly to their service, including post-traumatic stress, depression, traumatic brain injury, successive concussion syndrome, and blast-induced neurotrauma. This creates a clear and compelling obligation for increased research and greater access to high quality care to meet the needs of veterans with Alzheimer’s and their families.
To answer this charge, UsAgainstAlzheimer’s (UsA2) is launching VeteransAgainstAlzheimer’s (VA2), a national network of veterans and their families, military leaders, veterans service organizations, researchers, and clinicians focused on raising awareness of the impact of Alzheimer’s on active and retired service members and of the need for research and access to quality care.
“This is very personal to me. Love of country and support for our military is in my blood, and more than likely, so is Alzheimer’s,” said Shawn Taylor, Founder of VeteransAgainstAlzheimer’s. “We all know what this disease looks like and the destruction it brings to the families. I’m on a mission to raise awareness and to educate the veteran community about Alzheimer’s, and encourage these brave men and women to join with us to help stop this indiscriminate disease.”
According to the report, age is the top known risk factor for Alzheimer’s, and that risk increases greatly after age 65. Nearly 50 percent of veterans are age 65 or older and therefore at heightened risk for Alzheimer’s, compared to 15 percent of the general population. Furthermore, studies show that older veterans who have suffered a traumatic brain injury are 60 percent 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.
- The large population of older veterans elevates Alzheimer’s as a primary health care challenge. Currently, 13 million veterans are over the age of 55, representing two-thirds of the veteran population, with the largest cohort from the Baby Boomers who served during the Vietnam War.
- The number of veterans with Alzheimer’s has surged. Approximately 420,000 veterans will have developed new cases of Alzheimer’s between 2010 and 2020. Among Veteran’s Affairs (VA) enrollees, the number with Alzheimer’s grew 166 percent from roughly 145,000 in 2004 to 385,000 in 2014, more than doubling during that period.
- Many of the new cases of Alzheimer’s are directly attributable to military service. Approximately one-third of new cases of Alzheimer’s are a direct result of service-related injuries, conditions, and other factors.
“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.”
Veterans face barriers to effective Alzheimer’s diagnosis and care, including a complex VA health system, a lack of understanding about available benefits, and a stigma related to brain and mental health.
“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. But we were left to our own devices for non-medical help and assisted living,” said Karen Garner, caregiver to James B. Garner, Senior Master Sergeant, USAF (Ret.) and author of Missing Jim: Confessions of an Alzheimer’s Wife. “We must work towards not only a cure but making sure those who have served and protected us are protected themselves.”
UsAgainstAlzheimer’s (UsA2) is an innovative non-profit organization demanding – and delivering – a solution to Alzheimer’s. Driven by the suffering of millions of families, UsAgainstAlzheimer’s presses for greater urgency from government, industry and the scientific community in the quest for an Alzheimer’s cure – accomplishing this through effective leadership, collaborative advocacy, and strategic investments.
Contact: Jeannette O’Connor