TBI, Vets, Dementia...and Tinnitus too
Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, for short, is the signature injury of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. We hear that statement a lot. So much that we become a bit immune to what it may often entail and accompany. But troops returning from those theaters of operation don't have the same luxury. A very high percentage have suffered some degree of TBI and the effects will follow them for the rest of their lives.
Just last week, it was reported that returning active-duty personnel may have a twenty percent chance of developing tinnitus, a condition typically thought of as solely a hearing impairment, but which may also involve a disorganization of the brain and the brain's attempt to counter-balance hearing loss with the introduction of a constantly heard (it never goes away) tone or signal. The effects of tinnitus can be mentally devastating. It can cause anxiety and depression (if you think about it, how could it not?) and can destroy an individual's capacity to perform work which requires a persistent level of attention and concentration.
In 2008, the Veterans Administration reported that 70,000 vets suffered from tinnitus. I have absolutely no doubt that those numbers have increased substantially since then, and will continue to increase over the years.
Last week it was also reported that by Dr. Kristin Yaffe, who directs the Memory Disorders Clinic at the San Francisco VA, presented the findings of a study which found that returning vets may be predisposed to developing dementia in later life. This is in line with research that finds that severe head injuries can result in the onset of dementia many years, even decades, later.
My own mother suffers from dementia and so I can relate firsthand with how difficult life will be for the families of affected vets in future years. Providing care for a relative who has even mild dementia in the attempt to avoid (or put off as long as possible) the last resort, a nursing home facility, can pose extraordinary demands upon a family, demands that are physical, mental, emotional, and, of course, financial.
Twenty-two percent of all casualties suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan involve Traumatic Brain Injury and vets 55 years of age or older may have double the risk of dementia as a result of a prior injury.
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