Agent Orange Exposure Increases Risk of Dementia in Vietnam Veterans

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by Ray Burow |

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The Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act, signed into law in 2017, designates March 29 of each year as National Vietnam War Veterans Day.

In 1973, the last U.S. combat troops pulled out of Vietnam, along with the prisoners of war who were held there. A year later, U.S. President Richard Nixon chose March 29 as the first Vietnam Veterans Day.

War is hell

Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, a recognizable figure from the U.S. Civil War, made famous the phrase, “War is hell.” Apparently, he was right, as the statement rings true for millions of veterans who fought in foreign wars, including Vietnam. We don’t need to rehash history in this column — only as a reminder that 40 years ago, there were very few celebrations that welcomed Vietnam veterans home from foreign soil.

Thankfully, the United States learned a lesson from that terrible time in its history and is attempting to make up for lost time, acknowledging the wrongs perpetrated against those who served in the jungles of dense brush, which likely added to the figurative “hell” of which Sherman spoke.

Sadly, Vietnam veterans are facing a different foe right here at home. Sherman’s definition of war is equally applicable to the skirmish that many Vietnam veterans are facing or will face as they age.

Impact of dementia on veterans

The UsAgainstAlzheimer’s organization reports that the most common form of dementia is disproportionately affecting veterans. Because the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease increases with age, veterans from the Vietnam War era are at a heightened risk. As a matter of fact, nearly 50% of all U.S. veterans fall within the age demographic most susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease, compared with 15% of the country’s general population.

There’s more to the rising number of veterans with Alzheimer’s disease than aging brains. Traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder have been connected to the disease, which are significant issues among Vietnam veterans.

Additionally, Agent Orange may play a role in the dementia diagnoses among Vietnam vets. This is according to a study published in JAMA Neurology that analyzed more than 300,000 Vietnam veterans. Approximately 12.1% were exposed to the chemical, which was used to control vegetation in the jungles of Vietnam. The herbicide wasn’t the only one used by the military, and Vietnam wasn’t the only location targeted.

Agent Orange exposure

Veterans serving in certain locations, including Thai Air Force bases, the Korean Demilitarized Zone, and on C-123 aircraft, could have been exposed to the tactical herbicide, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA offers veterans an Agent Orange Registry health exam to determine if health issues could be related to exposure to the chemical.

The examination is free to eligible veterans, and a copayment is not required. If the statistics presented in this article represent you or a loved one who served, please contact the registry for testing.

According to the JAMA study, veterans exposed to Agent Orange are twice as likely to be diagnosed with dementia, compared with veterans who were not exposed. Those who were exposed also developed dementia an average of 1.25 years earlier. The study took into account other competing issues, such as death risk, variables associated with demographics, and both psychiatric and medical comorbidities.

Researchers are calling for additional studies that compare Agent Orange exposure to increased dementia diagnoses. But the current statistics are significant and shouldn’t be ignored by veterans who are experiencing symptoms of dementia.

War may be hellbut the aftermath isn’t a picnic, either. The sacrifices shared by those in America’s armed forces continue to run deep. Hopefully, the gratitude of our collective citizens will go deeper still.

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Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.

Comments

Mike washo avatar

Mike washo

If you want to help the care giver may you you should due more then being a cheer leader. How about helping with the overwellming cost . Introduce ledgislation to make expenses tax deductible. Let’s stop wishing well and do something that will help.

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Ray Burow avatar

Ray Burow

Certainly, this is an aspect of caregiving that needs to be addressed on many levels, Mr. Washo, and one that I, as a primary caregiver, can also identify. BioNews Services exists to bring awareness to Alzheimer's and other diseases, too.

We do champion and lead the cheer for those affected by Alzheimer's disease, including information on how the disease takes a financial toll on affected families. So, your point is well taken. In this article, for instance, we provide info on where vets can receive a free health screening. Additionally, the following links are a few examples of how Alzheimer's News Today, attempts to bring awareness to the overwhelming financial burden that affects millions of people with the disease and to their caregivers also. However, BioNews Services isn't a funding agency, though we do have the best intention of drawing attention to the need that carers face and also to the need for financial intervention now and in the years ahead, as the disease becomes even more prominent in the United States.

Thank you for reading the column and for taking the time to comment. When you have a minute, perhaps you can take a look at the links below, which speak to the problem to which you've referred.

Ray Burow

https://alzheimersnewstoday.com/2020/03/06/accessing-benefits-social-security-retirement-pensions-veterans-tips/
https://alzheimersnewstoday.com/2020/11/02/support-familial-caregivers-is-needed/
https://alzheimersnewstoday.com/2020/11/02/seth-rogen-hfc-game-show-raises-325000-benefit-alzheimers-care-research/
https://alzheimersnewstoday.com/2021/01/06/alzheimers-association-aim-praise-support-disease-research-care-2021-us-budget/
https://alzheimersnewstoday.com/2020/10/05/last-will-testament-caring-loved-ones/
https://alzheimersnewstoday.com/2021/02/22/usagainstalzheimers-calls-for-289m-dollar-hike-federal-funds-alzheimers-research/
https://alzheimersnewstoday.com/2020/07/08/alzheimers-foundation-of-america-offering-free-online-memory-screenings-starting-july8
https://alzheimersnewstoday.com/2020/12/02/deep-social-inequalities-us-counties-with-highest-alzheimers-rates-among-blacks-latinos/
https://alzheimersnewstoday.com/2020/12/21/dementia-map-resource-caregivers-professionals

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