Study Shows Veterans May Be at Risk for Aging at Accelerated Rate

Image credit: Chris HondrosGetty Images

Men and women who serve their country come home every day only to suffer from mild traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. And now there is increasing evidence that there are even more-negative consequences to their time in the military: early signs of conditions that are typically seen in older people.

Preliminary research on veterans and active-duty members of the military shows that symptoms like hypertension, elevated cholesterol and glucose levels, and obesity, which are typically seen in older Americans, are plaguing members of the military at a much earlier age, according to Regina McGlinchey, co-director of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Transitional Research Center for TBI and Stress Disorders (TRACTS).

"Other work prior to this has shown a link between PTSD and risk for metabolic syndrome," said Dr. Ann Rasmusson, a research affiliate with the VA's National Center for PTSD and TRACTS. "We think that there may be common underlying risk factors for both, plus the trauma and stress they are exposed to may also have influence on cardiovascular risk."

The center, which began testing veterans who suffer from brain injuries and PTSD in 2010, has seen more than 270 veterans and active-duty members. The center sees veterans of all ages, but the focus has been on those in their 20s and early 30s.

"People are coming in and have one or more of those risk factors, even in very young soldiers," Rasmusson said. "It's usually the kind of thing that happens when you're 45 or 50 and you get a wake-up call. That doesn't usually happen to people in their 20s."

"What we are finding is alarming," McGlinchey said. "We weren't prepared for the numbers we've seen."

While these findings are only preliminary, both researchers emphasized the importance of treatment.

"This is the earliest this has ever been looked at," Rasmusson said. "We urge people to come in sooner rather than later for treatment of PTSD and any associated medical problems."