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Local groups to aid veterans confronting Alzheimer’s disease

Veterans with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder face a higher chance of battling Alzheimer’s disease, research shows, and a new local partnership aims to help veterans and their families confronting the disease, organizers say.

About 5.7 million Americans have the disease and that number could nearly triple within 30 years, according to Eric VanClymen, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association—Miami Valley Chapter.

“… We decided to focus on the military because it’s such a huge presence here,” he said. “As we’ve started down this path, veterans who have had PTSD, TBI or depression are at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s than veterans who did not.”

The Alzheimer’s Association-Miami Valley Chapter, the Greater Miami Valley myVeteran Community, Wright-Patterson Medical Center and the Dayton VA Medical Center are pushing the initiative.

The Miami Valley region has about 200,000 veterans.

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The goal is to increase referrals to support organizations, set up support groups on base and at the Dayton VA and educate the community, said Cassie Barlow, chairwoman of the Greater Miami Valley myVeteran Community and leader of the Alzheimer’s Military Task Force.

“It’s really about developing a sustainable partnership so that over time we’ve got a lasting relationship so that 10 years from now, Wright-Patt and the VA are making referrals” to support groups, she said.

The Wright-Patt Credit Union Sunshine Fund will raise money this year to pay for the initiative, organizers said.

Officials want to educate service members and veterans on how to prevent or delay the onset of the disease, particularly in preventing head injuries.

“Research is showing there are modifiable behaviors that can help maintain health and possibly slow the progression of dementia,” Dr. Earl Banning, Wright-Patterson Medical Center director of neuropsychology, said in a statement.

The VA has ongoing research on the effects of TBI and how it could lead to dementia in patients as young as 35 years old, according to Jill Dietrich, Dayton VA Medical Center director.

“There are multiple studies researching how physical and mental exercises can help mitigate some of those risks,” she said in a statement.

Organizers say they hope the outreach will lead more veterans to enroll in the VA health care system to receive treatment.

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