Veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI) have a higher risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer's. The Alzheimer’s Association has information and resources to answer your questions about veterans and dementia risk, symptoms and treatment.
What is dementia?
Dementia is a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life. Women have a higher risk of developing dementia than men. Dementia has many possible causes, including Alzheimer’s disease and other brain changes.
Veterans and dementia risk
In addition to the main risk factors for Alzheimer's and other dementia (age, genetics and family history and more), there are a few factors that veterans may also experience, like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Anyone can have these risk factors, but veterans are more likely to have them. They have more dementia risk than people who are not veterans.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
PTSD is a mental health condition a person develops after seeing or experiencing something traumatic. A person may have trouble recovering from these events.
PTSD and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) have a strong connection. FTD is a group of disorders. The disorders are caused by nerve cell loss that gets worse over time. They affect the brain’s frontal lobes (the areas behind your forehead) or its temporal lobes (the regions behind your ears).
Traumatic brain injury
TBI, also called a mild concussion, occurs when the impact to the head is so serious it damages the brain. TBI can happen even without losing consciousness.
TBI can come from direct forces, like a bullet or other head injury. It can also come from indirect forces, such as shock waves from war explosions. The waves shake the brain inside the skull.
TBI can be mild, moderate or severe, depending on different factors. Did the person lose consciousness after an injury? How long were they unconscious? How serious are all the symptoms?
Experiencing TBI can increase Alzheimer’s and dementia risk, even years after the injury occurred. Moderate and severe TBI further increase the risk. Here are signs a person may have TBI:
Losing consciousness for a few minutes or seconds. That means they are not aware of what is happening around them.
Feeling unsteady. This means they have trouble walking or feel like they will fall.
Not being able to remember the traumatic event.
Having trouble learning or remembering new things.
Having trouble speaking. Others may not understand them.
Having trouble with body movements.
Having problems seeing or hearing.
Learn more about traumatic brain injury, including more symptoms and what to expect with diagnosis and treatment.
Get checked as soon as possible
As soon as you notice changes in thinking in memory in yourself or someone you know, see a doctor. An earlier dementia diagnosis offers significant benefits like the ability to stay independent for as long as possible and others, including:
- Having more treatment options.
- A better chance treatment that could help.
- The opportunity to participate in more clinical trials.
- Time to make lifestyle changes that can help your memory and thinking.
- Having more time to make legal, financial and health plans.
Learn more: 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Dementia
, Why Get Checked
Information for caregivers
Adapt your caregiving to different stages of Alzheimer's
We have resources to help caregivers adjust to each stage and behavior change as the disease progresses.
You may be caring for a veteran who is living with Alzheimer's or another dementia and notice changes in their memory, thinking, mood or behavior. These changes get worse with time and can cause dementia-related behaviors, such as:
Feeling anxious. This means they can feel very worried or nervous.
Feeling depressed. This means they are very sad or sadness lasts a long time.
Having suspicions. They may think other people are stealing or doing things they are not actually doing.
Having delusions. This means they see or hear things other people do not see or hear.
Showing aggression. Aggression can be with words, like shouting. It can be with body movements like pushing or hitting.
Not every veteran with dementia has these behaviors. Dementia affects people in different ways. Know that the person is not doing these things on purpose. The person is thinking, feeling or acting this way because of changes in the brain.
The person living with dementia needs a safe environment and the right support. Here are ways a caregiver can help:
Organize the home to help the person living with dementia to find things easily.
Remove rugs or other things the person could trip on so the person living with dementia can safely move around.
Look for fire dangers. Make sure gas or electric stoves are not on.
Help the person stay safe. Caregivers might need to hide car keys or take firearms out of the home.
Learn more recommendations and strategies to help with caregiving and get more safety tips.
Resources for veterans and their caregivers
The Alzheimer’s Association
- Call our 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900 for guidance and support. Phone calls are confidential and no question is too big or too small.
- I Have Alzheimer's: If you have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's or another dementia, you are not alone. Learn what to expect, what help is available and how to cope with the changes ahead.
- Caregiving: Learn how to care for someone living with Alzheimer’s and how to care for yourself while taking on this new responsibility.
- Local support: Find an Alzheimer’s Association local chapter in your community.
- Alzheimer’s Association and AARP Community Resource Finder: alz.org/crf
- ALZConnected®: Join our online community to connect with caregivers and individuals living with early-stage Alzheimer's. You can share questions, experiences and practical tips via message boards or create private groups organized around specific topics.
- ALZNavigator™: Whether you’re living with memory loss or caring for someone who is, ALZNavigator, an online interactive tool, will guide you to your next steps.
The Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system
The VA provides services for veterans living with Alzheimer’s and dementia:
- Health care benefits for veterans: Apply for and manage veteran health care benefits.
- Geriatrics and extended care: Visit this hub to learn about the VA programs and services available to senior veterans and their families.
Social work: VA social workers provide assistance to veterans navigating various aspects of health care, such as arranging benefits or communicating with health professionals on behalf of the veteran.
Caregiver support program: Learn about the clinical services available to caregivers of eligible veterans enrolled in the VA health care system.
Homemaker and home health aide: Use this printable guide to learn about the different types of home health aide services available to veterans.
Respite care: Respite care gives the caregiver a short break. Learn about the short-term care options offered by the VA.
Find VA locations: VA care providers are located across the U.S.
Nursing home: Get more information about long-term care in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Palliative care: Learn how the VA uses palliative care to help reduce pain, symptoms and stress in mind, body and spirit.
Hospice care: The VA offers hospice care to veterans with terminal illnesses. Learn about the different options for this comfort care.
Caregiver support: Family of veterans may be eligible for health care benefits. Find out whether you are eligible and how to apply.
These resources can help you understand your rights as a veteran and connect you to agencies that provide legal planning assistance.
These resources can help you plan for your financial future and know what benefits you’re entitled to as a veteran.