One of the greatest fears a veteran can have is losing their mental capabilities, including their long-cherished memories or self-control.
Unfortunately, dementia and Alzheimer’s are all too common. They are also important conditions to address as soon as possible. Doing so can improve your odds of slowing the disease, as well as ensure you receive VA disability for dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Today, you will learn what symptoms to watch for, how these diseases can be related to your active duty service, and how to get the highest disability rating for Alzheimer’s and dementia possible. Many of the benefits are also available to surviving spouses of veterans that suffered from service-connected Alzheimer’s before they died.
What we Cover for Veterans in this Article about Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
- Signs and Symptoms of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
- Are These Diseases Hereditary?
- When Should a Veteran See a Doctor About Dementia and Alzheimer’s?
- How Alzheimer’s and Dementia Impact Your Everyday Life
- Service-Related Illnesses/Injuries Related to Dementia and Alzheimer’s
- General and Mental Health Issues That Are Similar to Dementia and Alzheimer’s
- VA Disability for Dementia or Alzheimer’s – What’s Covered?
- Veterans’ Benefits for a Spouse with Dementia
- When Long-Term Care is Needed – VA Nursing Home Locations
- A Family-Owned Law Firm Putting Veterans First
Signs and Symptoms of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Dementia is an umbrella term that covers the loss of:
- Problem-solving abilities
- Language skills
The loss of these abilities is not just frustrating – it is life-altering.
Alzheimer’s is currently the leading cause of dementia. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that destroys a person’s memory, as well as other mental capabilities. Scientists do not have a conclusive cause of Alzheimer’s, though they believe it is caused by a buildup of proteins in the brain. The protein deposits build up and form plaques around the cells of the brain. Other deposits tangle the brain cells. Plaque buildup and entanglements reduce the ability of the neurotransmitters to send signals throughout the brain, leading to a loss of memory and reduced mental skills.
Though there are no cures for dementia or Alzheimer’s, if caught early, doctors can prescribe therapies and medications that can potentially slow the process. Depending on how far a patient has progressed with the diseases, they may even be able to be part of a medical trial.
Are These Diseases Hereditary?
Current scientific evidence does not point to genes as a major precursor to dementia. Rare types of dementia may have a genetic link but for many people, genetics do not come into play. Everyone is at risk of developing the disease.
Alzheimer’s has a stronger genetic link than dementia. Both early-onset and late-onset Alzheimer’s have genetic components. While an individual does not need to have a family history of the disease to develop it, people who have an immediate family relation with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop it.
Of course, as a veteran, you may have a higher risk of developing these diseases because of your time served on active duty. If you were exposed to certain chemicals – like Agent Orange – or sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI), you are at risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association recently reviewed multiple scientific studies and found that a TBI can put you at risk of developing these diseases years after the original injury. If you can link your Alzheimer’s to a service-related incident, your VA disability rating for Alzheimer’s will increase.
When Should a Veteran See a Doctor About Dementia and Alzheimer’s?
If you start to display any of the following symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor.
Symptoms of Dementia:
- Memory loss
- Mood changes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Time and place confusion
- Struggling to follow along during a conversation
- Difficulty finding the right word
- Difficulty carrying out familiar tasks, like counting change when paying at the grocery store
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s:
- Memory issues, like forgetting names and faces or recent events
- Increased anxiety
- Withdrawing from society or even those you love
- Repeatedly asking questions
- Difficulty with counting money or using numbers
- Struggling to find the right word
- Becoming confused or fearful in unfamiliar places
- Difficulty with any activities requiring planning and organization
How Alzheimer’s and Dementia Impact Your Everyday Life
Dementia and Alzheimer’s do not just affect your ability to remember people, things, and events. These diseases can impact your daily life, sometimes to an extreme extent.
As these diseases progress, it is difficult for the person with Alzheimer’s to care for themselves. Eating, bathing, oral hygiene, and dressing are no longer second nature. They need assistance to carry them out, either from family members who become caretakers or from hired professional caretakers.
It is not uncommon for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients to develop urinary or fecal incontinence (though urinary incontinence is more common). Due to the damage to the neurotransmitters and brain cells, reaction time to the urge to use the bathroom is slowed in some cases. In others, it is the inability to fully communicate that can lead to bathroom accidents. Additionally, due to memory loss, some people cannot find or recognize the bathroom, even in their own home.
Service-Related Illnesses/Injuries Related to Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Can you receive VA disability for dementia or Alzheimer’s? Yes, as long as you receive a VA disability rating for Alzheimer’s or dementia. You will need to undergo a VA dementia test and prove that your condition is related to your time on active duty. Some combat- or training-related injuries or illnesses related to these diseases include the following:
1. Traumatic Brain Injury
A TBI is a brain dysfunction caused by a violent blow to the head. It can be caused by sports injuries, car accidents, or combat blast injuries.
Even mild cases of TBI can result in serious and long-term effects, including:
- Mood changes
- Loss of memory
- Difficulty concentrating
- Blurred vision
- Hearing problems
Nearly 415,000 veterans have been diagnosed with TBI in the past 20 years. Due to structural changes in the brain after an injury, researchers have found a causative link between TBI and dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
2. Agent Orange Exposure
Vietnam veterans with dementia may receive VA disability for dementia or Alzheimer’s as research has linked these diseases with exposure to Agent Orange.
Contact or inhalation of Agent Orange is linked to a plethora of health issues. Exposure can cause a buildup of proteins in the body, which contributes to a plaque buildup on various organs, including the kidneys, heart, and liver.
Researchers believe that Alzheimer’s is caused by protein plaques in the brain. In recent studies, researchers found that veterans with Agent Orange exposure had higher levels of amyloid-beta (Aβ) oligomer, a peptide of amino acids that make up a majority of the plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
One of our VA disability lawyers goes over the Agent Orange Presumptive Conditions list in this video:
3. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is another condition that can raise your disability rating until you qualify for VA disability for dementia or Alzheimer’s.
The American Journal of Geriatric Psychology reviewed multiple studies to determine the link between PTSD and dementia. Twenty-five studies found that people with mid-life PTSD were more likely to develop dementia, while Alzheimer’s was a precursor for the emergence or reemergence of PTSD in later life.
General and Mental Health Issues That Are Similar to Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s and dementia are not the only conditions that cause mental decline, which is why it is vital to get a definitive diagnosis from your physician.
Here are just two conditions that are often misdiagnosed and confused with dementia, and their symptoms.
- Social withdrawal
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
- Sleep issues (too much or not enough)
- Memory problems
- Rigid muscles
- Slowed movement
- Loss of automatic movements, like smiling or blinking
- Speech changes
- Difficulty writing
VA Disability for Dementia or Alzheimer’s – What’s Covered?
According to a 2018 study of over 350,000 veterans, even a mild TBI increased the risk of dementia by two times.
Due to how significantly dementia and Alzheimer’s can impact veterans, the VA disability rating for dementia and Alzheimer’s can be up to 100%. Of course, your rating depends on:
- The severity of your disease
- How it is related to your active duty service
- How quickly your disease is progressing
You must talk to your physician as soon as you or those close to you start to notice issues, such as memory loss or confusion. Getting an early diagnosis will help speed up the VA disability claims process. Additionally, if you have one of several rapidly progressive dementias (RPD), your symptoms can seemingly manifest overnight and deteriorate rapidly, within weeks or months. The faster you can make a claim and get disability coverage, the better for you and your family.
When you visit a VA doctor for a VA dementia test, they will determine how much of your memory is impacted by dementia and how progressive it is. They will also determine what condition the Alzheimer’s or dementia is related to (PTSD, TBI, Agent Orange exposure) and how significantly each condition is impacting how you function daily. From there, they will provide you with a disability rating and inform you of the benefits you are eligible to receive.
A behind the scenes look at who works for you at Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm.
Veterans’ Benefits for a Spouse with Dementia
VA disability for dementia or Alzheimer’s covers surviving spouses of veterans with these diseases. Who qualifies for VA benefits? Spouses, caregivers, and dependents of a deceased veteran. The VA can provide them with:
- Money to pay for vocational schooling or other education
- Health care
- Life insurance
- Survivor’s compensation
- Money to pay for burial costs
Veterans who are caring for a spouse with dementia may be eligible for financial assistance through the VA Aid and Attendance (A&A) benefit plan.
When Long-Term Care is Needed – VA Nursing Home Locations
As dementia and Alzheimer’s progress, it is not uncommon to need outside care. Receiving assistance from a caregiver can take an immense amount of pressure off family members.
VA health care services include:
- Home-based primary care
- Adult day health care
- Homemaker and home health aides
- Respite care
- Outpatient clinic
- In-patient hospital
- Palliative care
- Hospice care
In addition to providing in-home care, the VA has nursing homes around the country to provide around-the-clock care to veterans with Alzheimer’s or dementia. There is at least one VA nursing home in each state. To find VA nursing home locations, contact the VA. They will inform you of the nursing home closest to you and the best equipped to serve the needs of a dementia or Alzheimer’s patient.
A Family-Owned Law Firm Putting Veterans First
Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm, has been supporting and fighting for the rights of veterans for 35 years. The legal team is just as committed now as they were at the very beginning.
Our team is happy to discuss your potential benefits. You can also check our free VA disability calculator to see what type of benefits you might be eligible to receive.
In addition to helping veterans with figuring out their benefits and filling out and submitting general VA disability applications, our team at Woods and Woods can help you appeal a claim if it is denied. We understand that the VA does not always get it right, and if you have a service-related injury or illness, we will appeal your claim and fight in court if necessary.
Our legal team understands how difficult a dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be. Let us help you win your VA disability rating and help you obtain the VA disability for dementia or Alzheimer’s that you and your loved ones deserve.
It’s not too late if we can prove that Agent Orange, his Alzheimer’s, and his death were all connected. Our team has worked on cases like this before, so give us a call and let’s see what we can do.
At Woods and Woods we do it all for you. We’ll let you or your POA know what forms are needed when and what we’ll do to appeal if that is necessary. We even pay for the postage on the letters we need you to send back. We’ll take care of it all for you.