A new research study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense will examine possible connections between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI), and the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in Vietnam veterans as they age.

Entitled “The Effects of Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on Alzheimer’s Disease In Veterans Using ADNI” (Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimag-ing Initiative), the study is being conducted at approximately 20 research sites across the U.S. including the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The study will include four groups of Vietnam veterans: those with TBI, those with PTSD, those with combined TBI/PTSD and a control group that has neither TBI nor PTSD. All participants must be free of significant memory problems at the time they start the study.

This study is unusual in that participants will be recruited and screened centrally by the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center before being referred to one of the research sites located near where they live.  This approach is being used to assure that subjects meet basic study entrance criteria before their first research clinic visit.

“This will be the first large-scale study to determine how TBI and PTSD affect the aging brain,” said Dr. Sterling Johnson, a neuropsychologist, professor of medicine at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and a researcher at ADRC. “Regarding TBI, one theory is that the traumatic injury itself initiates Alz-heimer’s disease in some people. Another theory is that TBI makes the brain less resilient or able to cope with Alzheimer’s or other brain diseases that come along later in life.

“PTSD is an important factor here, because the hormones released by chronic stress may also damage areas of the brain that are important for memory and may possibly put a person at greater risk for AD,” Johnson added. “These ideas have not been resolved, and this is the purpose of the study.”

Veterans who would like to participate must have a documented TBI history and/or PTSD diagnosis and be receiving benefits from the Veteran’s Administration to assist with these problems.

All study participants will receive brain scans and cognitive testing, as well as tests on their blood and spinal fluid.  Blood tests help determine if there are indications for memory problems, and the spinal fluid testing will be for classic Alzheimer’s disease proteins, such as amyloid.  DNA will also be tested to see if there is a genetic link to Alzheimer’s.

Johnson encourages Vietnam veterans in Wisconsin to get involved.

“I think this is an important opportunity to see what the long-term effects of TBI and PTSD are on cognition and the brain and to determine how these might pose a risk for Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. “The benefit to participants is the satisfaction of being involved in research that will contribute to our understanding of the brain and the chronic effects of these diseases, and hopefully help future veterans at risk.”

Wisconsin Vietnam veterans who would like more information should call the San Francisco Veteran’s Adminis-tration Medical Center recruitment staff at (800)773-4883 or visit http://www.adni-info.org/ DOD.aspx. 

For general questions about this or other ongoing studies at the ADRC call (608) 263-2582.

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