(Newsroom America) -- A new study provides a glimpse into the stressful world of combat, with evidence showing that post-traumatic stress disorder combined with battlefield concussions appear to be prematurely aging veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Scientists see early signs of heart disease and diabetes, slowed metabolisms and obesity — maladies more common to middle age or later," USA Today reported, citing data from a Veterans Administration study.
"They should have been in the best shape of their lives," William Milberg, a Harvard Medical School professor of psychology and project co-director, told the paper. "The big worry, of course, is we're going to be taking care of them until they're in their 70s. What's going to happen to them in the long run?"
The study is in its earliest stages, the report said, noting that researchers and scientists are rushing to make sense of the data. If the data truly points to premature aging, they say, it seems to be most prevalent those with both blast-related concussion and PTSD, or about 30 percent of the veterans being studied.
"There is even imaging evidence of diminished gray matter in high-functioning areas of the brain, changes that shouldn't happen for decades, if at all," said the paper.
Researchers say data is not at all conclusive at this point and that if it is substantiated, there is no way to tell just yet how it will affect future policies regarding length and number of combat deployments.
Still, the Army has been mindful of such elements, and has moved to make changes. Combat deployments have been shortened from one year to nine months. Also, the Army has lengthened the time between deployments for most units, something now possible as the war in Afghanistan winds down.
Nevertheless, those suffering from PTSD and brain injury continue to grow. According to Pentagon figures, 244,000 servicemembers have suffered traumatic brain injuries ranging from mild to severe, both in and out of combat, since 2000.
"We're looking at people who are going to be having cognitive problems much earlier than they should be having them," Regina McGlinchey, a neuropsychologist and project co-director, told the paper.
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