Study Links Military Duty in Iraq to Lapse in Some Mental Ability

Discussion in 'Fibromyalgia Main Forum' started by ephemera, Aug 1, 2006.

  1. ephemera

    ephemera New Member

    Article from NY Times August 2, 2006. Very much like Gulf War Illness, similar to our FM/CFSIDS symptoms.

    Study Links Military Duty in Iraq to Lapse in Some Mental Ability

    By BENEDICT CAREY

    A large study of Army troops found that soldiers recently returned from duty in Iraq were highly likely to show subtle lapses in memory and in ability to focus, a deficit that often persisted for more than two months after they arrived home, researchers are reporting today.

    But the returning veterans also demonstrated significantly faster reaction times than soldiers who had not been deployed, suggesting that some mental abilities had improved.

    The slight deficit, often unnoticed by the soldiers, could make it difficult for some of them to learn and remember information as quickly as they are accustomed to, the authors said. These lapses are more common but less disabling than emotional reactions to combat like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, the researchers said, and in many cases probably reflect a natural adaptation to life in Iraq, with the reaction time strengthening at the expense of some other mental functions.

    “We’re talking about a level of change that is not alarming and shouldn’t send people running to the doctor, but changes that some may notice when they are trying to perform in very demanding contexts” like a challenging civilian job, said the lead researcher, Jennifer J. Vasterling of the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System and Tulane University.

    The study, appearing in The Journal of the American Medical Association, is the first to track carefully such changes in mental functioning over time in soldiers who deployed to a war zone and those who did not.

    Researchers tried to measure similar changes in troops after the Persian Gulf war of 1991. Many of those veterans, reporting chronic problems with concentration, suspected that they had been exposed to toxic gases that might have been a cause. But investigators had too little information about them from before they went to war to make meaningful comparisons.

    Dr. Andy Morgan, a psychiatrist at Yale, said the new findings, when further tracked over time, could help doctors predict which soldiers will adapt quickly to civilian life and which will have chronic problems adjusting. “This kind of data should help us find early markers of trouble,” Dr. Morgan said, “and help us learn how to intervene if someone is headed for pathology.”

    The research team led by Dr. Vasterling administered a battery of mental tests to 654 male and female soldiers who served in Iraq at various times from April 2003 to May 2005. The tests, more than 20 in all, were given before and after deployment, and included one in which participants had to pay close attention to a computer screen as letters flashed by, waiting to flag each F they saw. In another test, they were asked to memorize simple diagrams and try to recreate them 30 minutes later.

    The soldiers did significantly worse in tasks that measured spatial memory, verbal memory and their ability to focus than did 307 soldiers who had not been deployed to Iraq.

    But the returning soldiers scored about the same as their peers on most of the other tests. And they outperformed those who had not been deployed in a test of reaction time, measured in the fraction of a second it takes to spot a computer icon and react. This finding in itself suggests that the soldiers’ minds had adapted to the dangerous, snap-judgment conditions of war, experts said.

    The deficits the soldiers showed “are perhaps better considered as essentially normal coping experiences,” Matthew Hotopf of King’s College London and Simon Wessely of the King’s Centre for Military Health Research, also of London, wrote in an editorial accompanying the article.

    In effect, the brain, like the rest of the body, builds the muscles it most uses, sometimes at the expense of other abilities, say psychologists who study short-term memory and concentration. If reaction time is more critical to survival than verbal memory, the brain will devote its limited resources to that mental quickness.

    Living for months at a time on adrenaline also affects brain function, soldiers and psychiatrists say. In a coming paper, Dr. Morgan and a team of other researchers found that elite soldiers under intense stress performed no better than pre-teenage children in tests of spatial memory. They recovered their abilities when the threat had subsided.

    “We think this prefrontal brain area involved in organization and complex spatial memory is knocked out temporarily by high levels of adrenaline,” Dr. Morgan said.

  2. caroleye

    caroleye New Member

    I'm an older vet, but my symptoms began a few years after joining in the 70's. When under super stress, you burn out your alpha waves & produce what you describe.

    Also your serotonin levels can decrease, leaving you with post traumatic syndrome.

    All of our brain chemistry can be affected, which in turn affects our mental & behavioral abilities.

    Thanks for that post acknowedging the problems so many of our vets have to deal with. Let them be on our soil to "protect/defend"; not die on others!!! grrrrrrrrr

    LIGHT*************carole
  3. ephemera

    ephemera New Member

    dncnfngrs, I'm sorry you found this NYTimes article "Political."

    Is this article any more or less political than the report this week on the fact that the fire fighters who were first responders at the Twin Towers lost the equivilant of 12 years of their lungs? 12 years of their breathing power?

    I feel like some of us would think the choice of vanilla, chocolate or strawberry ice cream was political.

    Sharing information is vital to our lives. Ignoring something because we disagree or don't understand, or putting on the "political" label doesn't help any of us.

    best wishes to all
  4. Jeanne-in-Canada

    Jeanne-in-Canada New Member

    I'm not sure why this is considered "political" and not the medical study article it appears to me, but before this gets deleted because of debate, I'd like to point out an important connection to our illness:

    quote-
    Living for months at a time on adrenaline also affects brain function, soldiers and psychiatrists say. In a coming paper, Dr. Morgan and a team of other researchers found that elite soldiers under intense stress performed no better than pre-teenage children in tests of spatial memory. They recovered their abilities when the threat had subsided.

    “We think this prefrontal brain area involved in organization and complex spatial memory is knocked out temporarily by high levels of adrenaline,” Dr. Morgan said.
    -endquote

    This is what happens to us. We exist for long periods on high adrenaline and it explains the profuse brainfog we suffer from. I'm not sure what causes the adrenaline surges in us, perhaps viral/bacterial onslaught. The body cannot remain for long periods in adrenaline surge, esp. sick bodies like ours, we have to crash and we do. Longterm adrenaline wreaks lots of longterm havoc on the body.


    Jeanne
  5. Jeanne-in-Canada

    Jeanne-in-Canada New Member

  6. caroleye

    caroleye New Member

    Since I was in the Medical Field, I saw the huge amount of cutting edge research done on many medical issues.

    Most do not have a clue what Vet Dr.'s have contributed to help us "ALL".

    LIGHT**************carole
  7. tlayne

    tlayne Member

    I just finished reading 'Project Day Lily' and continually the Veterans Affairs tried to cover up the fact that our military was exposed to biochemical warfare. Their symptoms where a lot like what we all are experiencing (by the way Dr Nicolson has more than proven that Gulf War Illness is also contagious). They try to pin all of their symptoms on Post Tramatic Stress Syndrome. Not that they haven't been thru plenty of that, but it goes much deeper.The immune system is compermized due to chemical warfare.

    If you really want an eye opener read his book. I will never look at our government and Veterans Affair again with blind trust as I once did. Hugs, Tam
  8. tansy

    tansy New Member

    this, so it's not surprising that statements like the one above have been made.

    I welcome a better understanding of PTSD. One Faulkland War vet I know had no help or support from the UK Navy when he developed PTSD, so this is progress.

    Gulf War veterans in the UK, whose health issues are not related to PTSD, are understandably angry that PTSD has become yet another distration away from finding the causes of their illness.

    There are members of the UK armed forces who received all the vaccines but were not sent to the Gulf, some of them got sick too.

    TC, Tansy[This Message was Edited on 08/05/2006]
  9. julieisfree05

    julieisfree05 New Member

    This is an interesting article, but I don't think that the researchers are studying the same problem that some veterans of the first Gulf War have, i.e., "Gulf War Syndrome".

    There are tens of thousands of vets from the first war who have the EXACT same symptoms of FM/CFS and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities - and the government damn well knows it.

    I was "mis-diagnosed" with GWS by my FM specialist in 1993. I got sick in 1991, worked for the Navy and was seeing him under "workers' comp". After hearing my symptoms, he assumed that I was one of a group of sick vets that he was seeing under a federal grant.

    When he asked, "Where did you serve during the war", I was stunned! I told him that I was civil service and got sick after inhaling fiberglass insulation in the Navy Lab where I worked. He told me that my symptoms were IDENTICAL to the GW vets he was seeing, and if I had claimed to have been in Iraq during the war, he never would have questioned it.

    He was the doctor who dx'd me with MCS. He was also diagnosing the GW vets with MCS, and when he started doing that, his funded was cut.

    In 1994, the head military person in charge of GWS flat out said that GWS is CFS! But, he didn't want to state it publicly, because then everyone would say "problem solved" and we still don't know much about CFS (see "Osler's Web").

    I think these researchers are on to something, and one only wonders if these vets will eventually develop GWS/CFS/FM/MCS, or if it is something like a "pre-cursor" to these illnesses and it didn't completely develop.

    - julie (is free!)

    It is arrogant of us, as scientists, to claim that because we cannot precisely define a problem , it doesn't exist.

    - Dr. Daniel Clauw, testifying before Congress on GWS