In the 19 years since Sept. 11, 2001, the mantra among surviving World Trade Center Firefighters & other first responders was always the same: Never forget. Now some of those heroes who spent weeks digging through the toxic rubble of the twin towers are at risk of losing their memories to dementia linked to their time working at Ground Zero, according to a pair of new studies by Stony Brook University researchers.
“It is very ironic,” said Dr. Benjamin Luft, director of the Stony Brook WTC Health and Wellness Program, who partnered with Dr. Sean Clouston on the projects. “We’re looking at a responder community, covered in the toxic dust that covered lower Manhattan. It really gives us pause.”
The first study’s findings, to be presented virtually Tuesday at the Alzheimer Association’s International Conference, used MRI imaging to assess the brain’s gray matter thickness in participating first responders. The researchers discovered a dangerous thinning of the gray matter, with evidence the responders’ “brain age” is about 10 years older on average than the typical person of the same age.
The second study, among 181 male 9/11 first responders with an average age of 55, found changes in their blood proteins consistent with Alzheimer’s and other neuropsychiatric conditions. “Listen, I run into it every day,” said first responder and activist John Feal. “People call us for help, and their memory is a little foggy or they don’t remember certain details. We know cancer is still killing people. Now let’s see if dementia rears its ugly head.”