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Trauma From Iraq Could Alter Veterans' Brains
Date:9/9/2009

Attention, memory in soldiers with PTSD still suffered a year after return from combat, researchers say

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 9 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) appear to show growing attention deficits in the year following their return, Boston University researchers report.

In addition, intense combat experiences were associated with faster, survival-linked reaction times. Earlier research has found that as soldiers encounter stressful and life-threatening situations, there are changes in their brains that direct their thinking, learning and memory toward survival, the researchers noted.

"It's important to realize that the problems with attention that we saw were relatively mild," stressed lead researcher Jennifer J. Vasterling, chief of psychology at the VA Boston Healthcare System and a professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. "But what they suggest is that we should be thinking about the broader picture of how people function when they return from war."

Treating psychological symptoms is a critical first step, Vasterling said. "But, we need to also be asking them about how other areas of their lives are affected, and try to help them with these concerns as well," she added.

The report is published in the September issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

For the study, Vasterling's team evaluated 268 men and women - all regular active-duty soldiers who served in Iraq between 2003 and 2006. Before and after going to Iraq, all the participants were given psychological tests that measured their response time, attention and memory.

Some of the soldiers were assessed immediately on their return and then again a year later. Others were assessed within 122 days after coming back from Iraq.

"We found that soldiers with post-traumatic stress symptoms performed more poorly on an attention
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