PTSD: Can it Trigger Alzheimer’s Disease?

By June 14, 2019September 5th, 2019Blog

More and more research is suggesting that developing Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) earlier in life can increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in old age. In the past, research concluded that the two disorders are related, however, a new study from the University Medical Center of Goettingen in Germany recently discovered a molecular link between the two. For instance, large studies on veterans in the United States have indicated that soldiers who had PTSD in their youth were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease by the age of 65.

Although Alzheimer’s does not currently have a cure, with this new knowledge, scientists and researchers may be able to potentially find a cure. The more that is learned about the brain and connections between various diseases and disorders, the better scientists can understand the human mind. 

What is Alzheimer’s Disease? 

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys one’s cognitive abilities, enough to interfere with daily life. The disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60% to 80% of all cases, and it is also the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, memory loss is mild, but as the disease continues to run its course, people lose the ability to carry out a conversation and respond to their environment. On average, a person with Alzheimer’s lives four to five years after being diagnosed but can live as long as 20 years with the disease depending on other factors. 

The most common symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information. Alzheimer’s typically begins to first impact the part of the brain that affects learning. As the disease advances through the brain, it leads to increasingly severe symptoms, including:

  • Disorientation, mood, and behavior changes
  • Deepening confusion about events, time, and place 
  • Unfounded suspicions about family, friends, and professional caregivers
  • More serious memory loss and behavior changes 
  • Difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking. 

Signs of dementia may be more obvious to family members or friends. Anyone experiencing dementia-like symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Some traumatic events that can lead to PTSD include natural disasters, a terrorist act, war/combat, serious accidents, and any type of violent or nonviolent personal assault. PTSD symptoms can cause significant problems and strain in everyday life and relationships.  

PTSD symptoms are commonly grouped into four different categories: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Symptoms can vary over time and vary from person to person.

  • Intrusive memories. Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event, reliving the traumatic event (flashbacks), upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event, severe emotional distress and physical reactions to something that reminds the person of the event.
  • Avoidance. Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event, avoiding people, places, and activities that remind the person of the traumatic event. 
  • Negative changes in thoughts and mood. Negative thoughts about other people, oneself or the world, memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event, hopelessness about the future, feeling detached from family and friends, difficulty maintaining close relationships, lack of interest in activities once enjoyed, difficulty experiencing positive emotions, and feeling emotionally numb. 
  • Changes in emotional and physical reactions. Being easily startled or frightened, self-destructive behavior such as drinking too much or driving too fast, trouble sleeping and concentrating, irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior, and overwhelming guilt or shame.

For an individual to be diagnosed with PTSD, their symptoms must last for more than one month. Many people develop symptoms within three months of the trauma; however, symptoms can appear even later. It is important to recognize that not everyone who witnesses or experiences trauma will get PTSD; no one knows why PTSD happens to some but not to others. For this reason, PTSD is not a sign of weakness, and should not be used as a determinant of one’s strength. 

Importance of Early Intervention and Treatment

As our loved ones age and lose the strength they once had, it is important to check in on them. The sooner the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are discovered, the sooner they can begin treatments to prolong their life. 

Intervene as soon as possible on behalf of someone suffering from PTSD as well as Alzheimer’s.  Uncharacteristic behaviors can become increasingly destructive. Over time, buried and suppressed memories become more and more powerful. 

Accelerated Resolution Therapy® (ART) is an innovative, evidence-based therapy that has been proven to be effective to help people suffering from PTSD, anxiety, depression, stress, and similar mental health diagnoses. Initially, the therapy was primarily used to help veterans suffering from PTSD. One of the major advantages is the speed at which ART is able to bring relief. Generally, only one to five sessions are needed, not months or years of expensive psychiatric treatment. 

Accelerated Resolution Therapy works by reprogramming the traumatic memories that are preventing a person from enjoying the full life they deserve. The therapy works equally well on anyone suffering from trauma, regardless of the type of trauma experienced.

Regardless of how bad things may be, there is hope and there is always someone available to help an individual through difficult times. Contact ART International to learn more or to find an ART therapist near you.