Study finds higher risk of dementia in Ground Zero first responders

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Nearly 19 years after the September 11th attacks, we're learning more about the impact of that horrific day.

Two studies by researchers at Stony Brook University suggests Ground Zero workers are at higher risk of dementia.

When looking at the brains of first responders, researchers found their gray matter was thinning making their brain age about 10 years older.

"While there are many reasons for cognitive decline because of brain changes, the loss of gray matter in the brain is one of the most concerning and can be measured by cortical thickness," explains Sean Clouston, PhD, lead author and Associate Professor of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine and in the Program in Public Health. "We found a direct correlation between those suffering from cognitive impairment and cortical thickness, indicating a reduction in gray matter of the brain at levels consistent with neurodegenerative disease."

Another study found blood proteins consistent with Alzheimer's in male first responders.

"The environmental exposures and psychological pressures experienced by responders during 911 and its aftermath has had an insidious effect on their health and well-being," says Benjamin Luft, MD, Director of the Stony Brook WTC Health and Wellness Program. "Now nearly 20 years post-911, clinicians who care for these individuals are seeing more patients who are showing signs of cognitive disorders and possible dementia. Findings from our new studies provide data for the first time that support the idea that this population of patients who have cognitive impairment not only have psychological problems such as PTSD but may be at high-risk for neurodegenerative disorders, a possibility that needs immediate and continued investigation."

The studies were supported by the National Institute for Safety and Occupational Health (NIOSH) and the National Institute on Aging.

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