Our Veterans & Dementia
June is PTSD Awareness Month. The rapidly growing number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease includes an increasing number of military veterans who may be at increased risk for dementia as a consequence of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and brain injuries suffered in service.
UsAgainstAlzheimer’s successfully works with and for communities at higher risk for dementia, including women, Latinos and African Americans. Love of country and support for our military is in my blood, and, sadly, so is Alzheimer’s. So it’s fitting that I am spearheading a new effort on behalf of our nation’s veterans: VeteransAgainstAlzheimer’s.
I am an only child. I idolized my mom ever since I can remember. She was beautiful. She loved me unconditionally. She was a force to be reckoned with, a pioneer in the professional world – in a man’s world no less.
Through out my life, I watched my mother’s attention to detail, her tremendous communication skills, and ability to work a room and network, her knowledge and professionalism in her work. She ended her professional career as Director of Business Development for the National Bank of Washington.
My mom left her career in its prime to care for my grandparents when they started to show signs of “senility.” They moved into our home and little did I know this would be the start of my long caregiving role. Alzheimer’s was confirmed after autopsies on both my grandmother and granddaddy, a retired Colonel in the Army and Class of 1932 at West Point.
Fast forward 15 years, my mother started showing the same signs as my grandparents, and steadily declined. She backed away from social engagements. Her beautiful handwriting became illegible. She stopped driving. Now she doesn’t know her own granddaughters and she doesn’t recognize me. My daddy is a retired Lieutenant Colonel and Purple Heart recipient. Incredibly, he has also just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
So this is very personal to me. We all know what this disease looks like and the destruction it brings to the families. I’ve been fighting for a cure for six years as a founding Board member of UsAgainstAlzheimer’s. Now I am on a mission to raise awareness and to educate the veteran community about the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s.
There is so much more to be learned. But initial studies show that veterans who suffer from the “invisible wounds of war,” such as PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and blast injuries, are at a higher risk for dementia. Their families are impacted by intense caregiving needs. So our mission through VeteransAgainstAlzheimer’s is to raise the profile of Alzheimer's disease as an urgent health issue for veterans, to mobilize this community to demand the attention of industry leaders, community stakeholders and policymakers. We want to improve supports for family caregivers, and increase veteran participation in brain health initiatives and, ultimately, clinical trials. Without clinical trials there is no cure, or to quote Paul G. Rogers, the late founder of Research!America, “Without research, there is no hope.”
As PTSD Awareness Month comes to a close, I encourage you to learn more as we work together to sound the alarm about the impact of Alzheimer’s on veterans and their families.
Shawn Taylor is a founding Board member of UsAgainstAlzheimer's and President of the VeteransAgainstAlzheimer’s Network. Shawn also serves as a Program Specialist for the Code of Support Foundation, located in Alexandria, VA, and with VeteransAgainstAlzheimer's was a sponsor of the 2017 GI FIlm Festival.