PTSD Among 9/11 First Responders Is Linked to Cognitive Decline

The 2009 Tribute in Lights. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Professor Laura A. Rabin (GC/Brooklyn, Psychology) heads a clinical neuropsychology lab devoted to assessing subtle declines in objective and subjective cognition in preclinical stages of dementia. She recently collaborated with the New York City Fire Department and researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine on a study of cognitive issues in firefighters and paramedics who responded to the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Those issues included reported trouble recalling words and a need for written prompts to remember things.
 
The study found that workers who had “high-intensity” exposure to ground zero were more likely to report cognitive concerns and “elevated levels of PTSD and depression” 17 years after the disaster (which is when the study was conducted) than workers with lower levels of exposure. Study authors report that the findings confirm a “statistically significant association” between PTSD and the cognitive issues, as well as between depression and the cognitive issues.
 
But association doesn’t mean causality. In other words, more research is needed to determine whether PTSD or depression is causing the memory problems, or if it is the other way around.
 
As a general rule, cognitive function is known to decline with age. Long-term studies will also provide insight into whether these individuals are experiencing more cognitive concerns than others their age.
 
Of course, PTSD and depression are known “risk factors for cognitive dysfunction” in many “trauma-exposed populations, including “military veterans, natural disaster survivors, and trauma-exposed women,” Rabin said. Also, individuals who have experienced “multiple traumatic exposures, which most FDNY rescue/recovery workers have, have greater PTSD symptom severity and poorer health outcomes vs. those with single-incident PTSD.”
 
What does that suggest when it comes to mental health and COVID? “We would expect to see similar associations between level of trauma exposure, longitudinal PTSD symptoms and depressive symptoms, and cognition among first responders who were active during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Rabin said.

Submitted on: SEP 10, 2020

Category: Faculty | General GC News | Psychology | Research Studies