A study by Stony Brook University researchers found that Ground...

A study by Stony Brook University researchers found that Ground Zero first responders with cognitive impairment in conjunction with PTSD are at risk for a new form of dementia. Credit: Newsday/Viorel Florescu

World Trade Center first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder could be at risk for a new form of dementia, according to results of a study led by Stony Brook University researchers and made available Monday to Newsday.

The study by researchers at Stony Brook’s WTC Health and Wellness Program used 3D imaging techniques to assess the brains of 99 living first responders who worked at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Researchers observed that those suffering from cognitive impairment and PTSD showed signs suggesting a unique form of dementia.

First responders who had cognitive impairment — such as mild memory loss and problems finding directions — but didn’t suffer from PTSD, appeared to have a different form of dementia, according to a statement from Stony Brook. The average age of the subjects studied was 56.

The findings suggest the possibility that there might be two new forms of dementia affecting those first responders studied, said Sean Clouston, one of the authors of the study and an associate professor in the Department of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook, in an interview, adding that more research is needed.

In a statement accompanying release of the results, Clouston said that "overall, the study supports the view that responders with CI [cognitive impairment] have neurological changes consistent with neurodegenerative disease, that they are inconclusive as to the type of disease.”

Clouston told Newsday that first responders with cognitive impairment were found to have certain kinds of changes in the white matter of their brains. Those with cognitive impairment and PSTD had further changes in the part of the corpus callosum, the part of the brain anatomy that connects its two hemispheres, Clouston said. None of those studied, he said, showed signs of Alzheimer’s disease, a common form of dementia.

In his statement, Clouston said: “Our findings do show that dementia due to PTSD is clearly different from non-PTSD dementia in this responder population."

For John Feal, head of the Nesconset-based FealGood Foundation, which helps Ground Zero first responders, the results of the Stony Brook study are what he anticipated. While cancer is one of the main illnesses known to affect first responders, cognitive disorders are leading some of them to what Feal said is a “slow, painful death.”

“To see them deteriorated has been painful to witness,” Feal said of the cognitive decline among responders. “It is sad to see people become a shell of what they were.”

Feal, of Commack, was injured doing demolition work at Ground Zero in the days after the attacks and, as result, became a national advocate for first responders. Feal said that he takes part in the Stony Brook wellness program with annual physicals, including a cognitive test, and tries to keep his mind active. The Stony Brook program monitors the health of between 8.000 to 10,000 responders.

“The 9/11 community should take this serious,” Feal said of the cognitive issue. “I think I fear not knowing who I am more than I do cancer.”

Stony Brook University said the study was supported in part by the National Institute on Aging — National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

World Trade Center first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder could be at risk for a new form of dementia, according to results of a study led by Stony Brook University researchers and made available Monday to Newsday.

The study by researchers at Stony Brook’s WTC Health and Wellness Program used 3D imaging techniques to assess the brains of 99 living first responders who worked at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Researchers observed that those suffering from cognitive impairment and PTSD showed signs suggesting a unique form of dementia.

First responders who had cognitive impairment — such as mild memory loss and problems finding directions — but didn’t suffer from PTSD, appeared to have a different form of dementia, according to a statement from Stony Brook. The average age of the subjects studied was 56.

The findings suggest the possibility that there might be two new forms of dementia affecting those first responders studied, said Sean Clouston, one of the authors of the study and an associate professor in the Department of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook, in an interview, adding that more research is needed.

In a statement accompanying release of the results, Clouston said that "overall, the study supports the view that responders with CI [cognitive impairment] have neurological changes consistent with neurodegenerative disease, that they are inconclusive as to the type of disease.”

Clouston told Newsday that first responders with cognitive impairment were found to have certain kinds of changes in the white matter of their brains. Those with cognitive impairment and PSTD had further changes in the part of the corpus callosum, the part of the brain anatomy that connects its two hemispheres, Clouston said. None of those studied, he said, showed signs of Alzheimer’s disease, a common form of dementia.

In his statement, Clouston said: “Our findings do show that dementia due to PTSD is clearly different from non-PTSD dementia in this responder population."

For John Feal, head of the Nesconset-based FealGood Foundation, which helps Ground Zero first responders, the results of the Stony Brook study are what he anticipated. While cancer is one of the main illnesses known to affect first responders, cognitive disorders are leading some of them to what Feal said is a “slow, painful death.”

“To see them deteriorated has been painful to witness,” Feal said of the cognitive decline among responders. “It is sad to see people become a shell of what they were.”

Feal, of Commack, was injured doing demolition work at Ground Zero in the days after the attacks and, as result, became a national advocate for first responders. Feal said that he takes part in the Stony Brook wellness program with annual physicals, including a cognitive test, and tries to keep his mind active. The Stony Brook program monitors the health of between 8.000 to 10,000 responders.

“The 9/11 community should take this serious,” Feal said of the cognitive issue. “I think I fear not knowing who I am more than I do cancer.”

Stony Brook University said the study was supported in part by the National Institute on Aging — National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

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