The first medical study of the long term effects of bomb blasts on the brains of service members reveals some troubling news. For vets exposed to wartime explosions, some who were even as far away as 100 yards from a bomb blast and may not have even noticed any negative effects, their brains are showing signs of accelerated aging, according to newly completed VA research.
"These are exposures to blasts, not necessarily blasts that lead to concussion, that feeling of fuzziness or getting knocked out," Dr. Regina McGlinchey, a study leader at the VA Boston and director of the Translational Research Center for TBI [Traumatic Brain Injuries] and Stress Disorders, or TRACTS told CBS News. "These are events where the veterans themselves thought they were just fine."
According to the VA more than 166,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have tested positive for mild traumatic brain injury. Most of these former GIs are in their 20s or 30s but are showing symptoms of much older people including diabetes, heart disease, slowed metabolisms and obesity. The consequences of this premature brain aging could also mean longer rehabilitation times and more and earlier onsets of dementia.
"Generally as we age, the connections (in the brain) deteriorate. But with those people with blast exposure it appears as though it's happening faster," said Benjamin Trotter, a bio-medical engineer with the Department of Veterans Affairs and lead author of the study. Regina McGlinchey, a Harvard Medical School professor of psychology, VA scientist and study co-author, said the concern is that "what we generally see in older people in terms of declines in executive function, memory and planning would be happening at an earlier age."
USA Today reports, “Scientists say their theory may not be proved until they can study these veterans over the next few years, and it remains unclear how these findings might impact policies on the length and number of combat deployments.”