Agent Orange Exposure Increases Risk of Dementia in Vietnam Veterans
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 hell, but 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.
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.