New task force to help military, veterans, civilians battle dementia

An Alzheimer’s Association Military Task Force has been formed to improve services for local military personnel, veterans and government civilians who may be supporting a family member or personally struggle with dementia-related disorders. Based upon research on dementia-related disorders, there appears to be a relationship between dementia and post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

The new community effort also will focus on helping caregivers associated with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and those they care for who are suffering or may be more likely to suffer from Alzheimer's and dementia. A simple, easy-to-navigate survey is being conducted to assess the need for a caregivers support group at, and the base community is encouraged to participate. Results and next steps will be shared through the Skywrighter.

The task force will conduct broad-ranging initiatives focused on sustainable efforts for the region that will include dementia awareness and education within the participating organizations and referrals for diagnosis, as well as support services and information for those diagnosed with dementia and their families.

The project is being led by Dr. Cassie Barlow, Alzheimer’s Association board member and chief operating officer of the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education.

The task force is set to build a sustainable relationship between the Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley Chapter, Wright-Patterson AFB and the Dayton VA Medical Center. Funding is being provided through a grant from Wright-Patt Credit Union’s Sunshine Community Fund. Funds will continue to be raised through activities like a recently held golf tournament and more.

Representatives from such entities as Veterans Affairs, Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton, Air Force Research Laboratory, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Dayton Regional Military Collaborative are serving on the task force to provide a holistic approach to this effort.

Maj. (Dr.) Earl Banning, director of neuropsychology at Wright-Patterson Medical Center, is serving as a task force member. His field concerns brain performance, he said.

“It has been shown that intervening and treating early dementia is much more effective. Picking up on symptoms early – the hallmark symptom is memory – is important,” Banning said.

He estimates that 30 percent of his caseload involves dementia, so he is very involved with neuropsychological testing for it and providing information on resources.

He said he is excited results from the task force may help him reach younger patients who are in the earliest stages so they can have a better, longer chance to respond to medications and other treatments like socialization. He is particularly interested in making early “brain checkups” or quick cognitive screenings a standard of care, where possible.

All this matters to the military population, Banning said.

“We have an aging population associated with the military. These are the people who were Airmen and Soldiers 10-, 20-plus years ago, and we know there are risk factors for dementia,” he said.

Banning referred to a report issued in March by the Alzheimer’s Association that cites the billions and trillions of dollars that are projected to be needed to care for people alive in the United States right now.

“Dementia is a problem for all of us,” he said. “All the steps we can take now will affect the risk of developing it.

“The odds of active-duty service members knowing someone directly or having a family member with Alzheimer’s is pretty high,” Banning said.

That can lead to guilt and stress because the service member is serving the nation and can’t always care for the individual who is suffering.

“We want to find hidden pockets of people in the community we are not currently serving,” he said.

Doing everything possible to deal with and assist people with dementia is going to result in a better fighting force, Banning said.

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