Among 9/11 responders, SBU sees PTSD-dementia link

Ultimate price: First responders to the 9/11 terrorist attacks are still facing life-and-death dangers 18 years later.

The heroes of 9/11 continue to confront danger, according to a new study by Stony Brook University researchers that sees a potential connection between PTSD and dementia.

With cases of post-traumatic stress disorder frequent among the first responders who dealt with the devastating terrorist attacks 18 years ago, a pilot study by Stony Brook Medicine’s World Trade Center Health and Wellness Program “suggests that there may be a link between chronic PTSD in responders and neurodegeneration,” a condition that invites Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias most commonly related to age.

In the case of the pilot study, “neurological biomarkers” from 34 first responders to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were tested. The average age of the responders at the time of the study was only 53 and half of the subjects displayed PTSD symptoms, according to SBU.

Lead by researcher Sean Clouston, an associate professor in the Renaissance School of Medicine’s Department of Family Population and Preventive Medicine, the study found that first responders with PTSD symptoms had amyloid-beta levels and other “neuronal alterations” in their blood usually associated with the neurodegenerative diseases of aging, including Alzheimer’s.

Calling itself “the first of its kind in a sample of WTC responders and … among the first to examine a multiplex array of plasma-based neurological biomarkers,” the study – originally published by Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring, an online journal of the Alzheimer’s Association – concludes that more research is required “to determine the extent to which plasma-based neuropathological biomarkers reflect brain parenchymal degenerative changes.”

Translation: Precisely how PTSD leads to dementia, and how quickly.

The researchers, however, are taking it slow. Based on those 34 case studies, the findings are only “preliminary,” and in a statement issued Tuesday, study co-author Benjamin Luft, director of the WTC Health and Wellness Program, emphasized the need to carefully evaluate them – and to continue monitoring patients to see if they actually develop clinical evidence of cognitive impairment, something that’s “not yet clear,” according to the statement.

The WTC Health and Wellness Program may be the perfect place to find out. Including a Commack-based specialty-care satellite facility, the program services over 10,000 patients suffering from 9/11-related diseases, including cancer, pulmonary conditions, depression and PTSD. The program’s collaborative-care model integrates oncology, pulmonology, radiology, psychiatry and a host of other healthcare disciplines.