U.S. veterans who were nearby to bomb blasts in Iraq and Afghanistan appear to experience faster brain aging, according to a new study.
“These are exposures to blasts, not necessarily blasts that lead to concussion, that feeling of fuzziness or getting knocked out,” said Dr. Regina McGlinchey, a study leader at the VA Boston and director of the Translational Research Center for TBI [Traumatic Brain Injuries] and Stress Disorders, or TRACTS. “These are events where the veterans themselves thought they were just fine.”
Veterans who were exposed to bomb blasts, even up to a football field away, showed aging in brain images designed to detect the “leakiness” and fraying of the white matter in the brain, a part of the central nervous system that one researcher compared to an “old telephone wire system.” The results showed the same damage that happens in the normal aging process, only at a much faster rate.
“These wires get bent and stretched and they start to have little breaks in them, then water starts to leak out,” said Meghan Robinson, a research fellow at VA Boston Healthcare. “Water is what we can measure in an MRI.”