DAYTON – In a first-of-its-kind effort for our area, local Alzheimer’s Association Board Member Dr. Cassie Barlow is leading a new community partnership focused on helping military personnel and veterans struggling with dementia-related disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). The Alzheimer’s Military Task Force is funded through a grant from Wright-Patt Credit Union’s Sunshine Community Fund.
The Alzheimer’s Military Task Force will conduct broad-ranging initiatives focused on sustainable efforts for the region that will include dementia awareness and education within the partner organizations and referrals for diagnosis, as well as support services and information for those diagnosed with dementia and their families.
“Aside from the more well-known forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, emerging research is showing a strong correlation between dementia, PTSD and TBI. We know that those with PTSD are about twice as likely to develop dementia,” said Cassie Barlow, chief operating officer of Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education (SOCHE) and former commander of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
“We need to support our local military personnel, veterans and their families who are struggling with these disorders, which haven’t been fully addressed from a dementia-related perspective. The Alzheimer’s Association and other task force organizations have numerous resources – many of which are free – to help those who need it. Together, we can create a patient-centered holistic approach for this unique community,” Barlow added.
In addition to the Alzheimer’s Association, Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton VA Medical Center and Wright-Patt Credit Union, individuals from other organizations including 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 in an effort to provide a holistic approach to this effort.
Maj. (Dr.) Earl Banning, Director of Neuropsychology at the Wright-Patterson Medical Center, says that while early and proper diagnosis is vital, the Azheimer’s Military Task Force will also focus on behaviors people can modify to help maintain cognitive health and a cognitive reserve.
“Research is showing there are modifiable behaviors that can help maintain cognitive health and possibly slow the progression of dementia. Particularly for active military, avoiding head injuries is very important because such injuries might contribute to the progression of dementia associated with the injury,” Banning said.
The partnership will also support the Dayton VA Medical Center’s ongoing efforts to improve services to the local veteran community.
“The VA continues to research the effects of TBI and how it impacts the likelihood of developing dementia, possibly even as young as 35 years old. There are multiple studies researching how physical and mental exercises can help mitigate some of those risks. The key to benefitting from this research is to be enrolled in the VA system,” said Jill Dietrich, Director for the Dayton VA Medical Center.
“Many local veterans qualify for healthcare at the VA, but aren’t aware of the benefit they earned through their military service, and never apply. We are confident this partnership will help us engage more veterans and get them the help they deserve,” Dietrich said.
All of these issues were of concern to Wright-Patt Credit Union when evaluating the Alzheimer’s Association’s grant proposal.
“Wright-Patt Credit Union was pleased to select the Alzheimer’s Association as one of our annual Sunshine Community Champions because of their unique vision for the Alzheimer’s Military Task Force. It’s an honor to support the task force and its efforts to provide education, support services, and programs for military members, veterans, and their families,” said Tracy Szarzi-Fors, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Wright-Patt Credit Union.
The Sunshine Community Fund is completely supported through the efforts of WPCU Partner-Employee fundraising, vendors and business partners, which are then awarded equally to its Sunshine Community Champions for the year.
“We believe the task force’s initiatives align with Wright-Patt Credit Union’s values and will make a positive impact on the communities we serve,” Szarzi-Fors added.
“We are so grateful for the foresight and generosity on the part of Wright-Patt Credit Union to realize the importance of addressing this growing issue with active military, veterans and military contractors,” said Eric VanVlymen, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley Chapter and Regional Director for Ohio, Michigan and West Virginia.
“With more than 27,000 employees, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is the largest single-site employer in Ohio, so we definitely need to be attending to the growing incidence of dementia-related disorders among this unique population as well as with the huge number of veterans in our area,” VanVlymen said.
“The military and veterans do so much for the Miami Valley area and for our country, and we need to be there for them when they are struggling with dementia. I am overjoyed and humbled by how the military, veteran and private sector communities are coming together to help address this issue.”