Many U.S. Gulf War-era veterans complained of poor cognition following the war. This study assessed neuropsychological functioning in veterans 10 years after the war through objective tests.
2,189 Gulf War-era veterans (1,061 deployed, 1,128 non-deployed) were examined at 1 of 16 U.S. Veterans Affairs medical centers. Outcomes included neuropsychological domains derived from factor analysis and individual test scores.
Deployed veterans performed significantly worse than non-deployed veterans:
• On 2 of 8 factors (motor speed & sustained attention, analysis not corrected for multiple comparisons)
• And on 4 of 27 individual test variables (Trails A & B, California Verbal Learning Test-List B, and Continuous Performance Test sensitivity, with only Trails B surviving Bonferroni correction).
Within deployed veterans:
• Khamisiyah exposure [site where rockets were destroyed and the nerve agent Sarin, which is similar in mechanism of action and biological activity to some commonly used insecticides and medicines, was released into the air] was negatively correlated with motor speed after controlling for emotional distress. [More sarin exposure, slower motor speed.]
• Depressive symptoms and self-reported exposure to toxicants were independently and significantly associated with worse sustained attention.
• Other factors were also associated with self-reported exposures.
• The findings were not a result of differential effort across groups.
Gulf War deployment is associated with subtle declines of motor speed and sustained attention, despite overall intact neuropsychological functioning.
Evidence suggests that toxicant exposures influence both these functions, and depressive symptoms also influence attention.
Source: Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, Sep 2009;15(5):717-29. PMID: 19640317, by Toomey R, Alpern R, Vasterling JJ, Baker DG, Reda DJ, Lyons MJ, Henderson WG, Kang HK, Eisen SA, Murphy FM. Research Service, Boston VA Healthcare System, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. [E-mail: email@example.com]