WTC Responders with PTSD Have Higher Rates of Cognitive Impairment

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Public Health Watchdog Breaking News
Public Health Watchdog Breaking News

Study Finds High Rates of Cognitive Impairment Among WTC Responders

Research findings continue to show that 9/11 responders have higher rates of mental health problems. A study, published August in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment and Disease Monitoring, found that cognitive impairment in World Trade Center (WTC) responders may be related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The findings suggest that clinicians treating WTC responders should monitor individuals with PTSD for signs of cognitive impairment, which may manifest as problems with memory and thinking skills.

More than 800 WTC responders were involved in the study. Among these individuals, who were treated at the Stony Brook University WTC Wellness program, 12.8 percent had scores indicating cognitive impairment and 1.2 percent had scores indicating possible dementia. Cognitive impairment was associated with PTSD. Additionally, the rate of cognitive impairment overall was higher than researchers expected. “To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the association of PTSD and major depressive disorder (MDD) with cognitive impairment, and to do so in a large group of civilian World Trade Center responders without head trauma,” said Sean A. Clouston, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Program in Public Health at Stony Brook University and lead author, according to a Stony Brook press release. “These numbers are staggering, considering that the average age of responders was 53 during this study,”

Cognitive impairment was linked with having PTSD, major depressive disorder (MDD) and re-experiencing symptoms. Re-experiencing symptoms can occur in the form of flashbacks, for instance; they occur when memories of trauma trigger severe emotional and physical reactions in daily life.

Since 2002, more than 33,000 responders have enrolled in a WTC Health Program. According to the authors, if their findings are indicative of the overall population then it could mean that 3,740-5,300 responders have cognitive impairment and 240-810 responders have dementia.

“This study indicates that the effects of the exposure to the World Trade Center attacks on the responders may be more pervasive and insidious than originally thought,” said Benjamin J. Luft, MD, Director of the Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program and co-author of the study, according to the press release. “The results only support the wisdom of the passage of the Zadroga legislation, which provides continued monitoring and treatment of diseases caused by these exposures.”

“This is a problem we must solve,” said Maria Carrillo, PhD, Alzheimer’s Association Chief Science Officer, according to the release. “The silver lining in these troubling new findings is that they will help us better understand the relationship between PTSD, cognition and dementia. More research is needed in this area. This is crucial so that we can provide better care for all individuals who experience PTSD.”

Zadroga Act Funds the WTC Health Program, 9/11 VCF

Many 9/11 responders and survivors receive medical treatment and other benefits through the Zadroga Act, which was initially signed into law in 2011. The legislation funded the WTC Health Program, which provides medical treatment and monitoring. Data from this program is used for many studies, such as the one discussed previously.

The Zadroga Act also provided funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), which compensations ailing responders, survivors and their families. In December 2015, the bill was reauthorized; this provides $3.5 billion to fund the WTC Health program for another 75 years to 2090.

Parker Waichman LLP proudly stood alongside responders, survivors and advocates to help gain passage for the Zadroga Act and its reauthorization. The firm remains dedicated to fighting for the rights of 9/11 responders and survivors.

Exposure to the WTC site is associated with many different health problems. The towers produced a massive cloud of toxic dust when they fell, releasing hazardous substances such as asbestos; pulverized cement; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); benzene; dioxin; glass fibers; gypsum; jet fuel; heavy metals, including lead and other chemicals. More than 90 health conditions are related to 9/11 exposure, including over 60 types of cancer.

Research has continued to show that responders and survivors suffer from 9/11-related health problems 15 years after the attacks. A recent study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that people exposed to 9/11 had a higher rate of neuropathy, nerve damage that can manifest as tingling, pain, numbness or weakness, especially in the hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy). The authors concluded that their findings support adding neuropathy as a condition covered under the Zadroga Act. “As neuropathy treatment in responders is currently not covered under the WTC program, our findings have strong policy implications and suggest that neuropathy should be added to the list of conditions covered.” they stated.

Toxic dust exposure is also heavily linked to respiratory ailments. The journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine published a recent study showing that lung injuries in 9/11 responders tend to be permanent. The authors looked at EMS workers and found that lung function continued to be impaired in the years following the attacks.
The number of people who became ill from 9/11-related conditions continues to rise, statistics show. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2,500 people newly enrolled in the WTC Health Program during the 1-year period ending June 30. Including the new enrollees, the program has over 75,000 people nationwide are being treated or monitored for health problems related to 9/11. Rescue and recovery workers, who were the most exposed to the toxic dust, make up the bulk of enrollees.

Newsday reports that health care providers have noted an influx of new patients, who generally seem to be more sick. “What seems to be so surprising is that, even though it’s been 15 years, we continue to have new enrollees into the program,” said Dr. Benjamin Luft, director of Stony Brook’s clinic, according to Newsday. “We feel that the new people who are enrolling tend to be sicker than the old enrollees.”

Legal Help for 9/11 Responders and Survivors

Parker Waichman is proud to have fought alongside Ground Zero residents, workers, first responders, and other survivors and advocates, to help ensure passage of Zadroga Act amendments. The firm vows to continue its efforts to safeguard all those who were exposed to Ground Zero’s toxic cloud and the trauma of the attacks, and ensure that all the deserved Zadroga Act compensation is received. To determine eligibility for compensation under the Act, fill out our online form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).