Soldiers exposed to shock waves produced by military explosives are at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, a study funded by the US Army revealed recently.
The affected persons may not display overt signs of brain injuries but suffer from “persistent neurological symptoms, including depression, headaches, and memory problems,” said Dr. Ben Bahr, professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, in a statement.
The finding further explains how the injury remains undetected, saying the blow to the brain alters connections between neurons in the hippocampus — the major component of the brain responsible for memory encoding and social behavior.
“Blasts can lead to debilitating neurological and psychological damage but the underlying injury mechanisms are not well understood,” said Dr. Frederick Gregory, program manager, Army Research Lab.
Experiment on Rat Brain Tissue
As part of an experiment during the study, researchers tested pieces of rat hippocampus by exposing them to controlled military blast waves.
Subsequently, what the researchers found was “selective reductions in components of brain connections needed for memory, and the distinct electrical activity from those neuronal connections was sharply diminished.”
Researchers further deduced that healthy neurons in the tissue displayed a “subtle synaptic pathology,” which may be an indicator of “Alzheimer’s-type pathogenesis.”
“Synaptic compromise may also underlie the cognitive deficits and other symptoms found among individuals with prolonged exposure to low‐level blasts from obstacle breaching, shoulder‐fired weapons, and related heavy weapons training in addition to war‐zone experiences,” an extract from the study, published in Brain Pathology, stated.
Early Detection Key to Correct Diagnosis
Dr. Bahr suggested early detection of symptoms is key for better diagnosis and treatment of not only the aforementioned neuropsychiatric impediments but also of reducing the chance of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The study was conducted by a group of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke in collaboration with the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, the Army Research Laboratory, and the National Institutes of Health.