Head injury soldiers face faster cognitive decline

War veterans who suffer traumatic brain injuries show a faster decline in cognitive function than their peers, say US researchers.

Soldiers returning from wars in Afganistan and Iraq with head injuries need life-long follow-up care from neurologists and specialists in head injuries, says the team from the US National Institutes of Health.

The latest findings come from a follow-up study of 199 veterans who suffered penetrating head injuries in the Vietnam war.

Using the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) as a marker of cognitive function, the researchers found those who sustained head injury in the war had an average score of 54 out of 100, compared with an average score of 74 among veterans without head injuries.

When the latest AFGT scores were compared with those achieved by the veterans in 1981–84, it appeared that faster cognitive decline occurred in those who sustained the head injuries.

The most vital predictor of exacerbated cognitive decline was found to be intelligence prior to the injury, with men with the highest AFQT scores when they joined the army suffering less cognitive decline.

rachel.liddle@haymarket.com

Brain Online 2007

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