The Sept. 11 terror attack didn’t just sicken first responders who desperately searched for victims at Ground Zero — it also appears to be robbing them of their mental faculties, disturbing new research shows.
A study conducted by Stony Brook University has found that people who worked amid the rubble of the Twin Towers are suffering cognitive decline far earlier than normal.
“It’s two to three times more likely that 9/11 responders are likely to have mild cognitive impairment — a precondition of dementia — than the general population that is ten to twenty years older,” said chief researcher Dr. Sean Clouston.
“They’re getting cognitive impairment at an earlier age.”
Stony Brook’s World Trade Center Health and Wellness program treats more than 3,000 patients, including many first responders or laborers who worked at Ground Zero.
Neurological tests revealed that 12 percent suffered at least mild cognitive impairment or decline, said Dr. Benjamin Luft, who oversees the program.
“There’s an association of cognitive impairment with PTSD and the amount of time spent on the pile,” Luft said.
“It’s a precursor to developing Alzheimer’s disease. You’re moving the clock forward.”
As part of the study, Stony Brook is monitoring the health of 99 patients with more serious levels of cognitive decline to see if they develop Alzheimer’s disease or related conditions.
Evidence uncovered by the research includes blood abnormalities and brain scans that show reduced thickness in the outer layer of gray matter.
“There was brain atrophy,” Clouston said.
Retired firefighter Ron Kirchner, who took part in the study, logged nearly 600 hours at Ground Zero from September 2001 through March 2002 and retired on disability in 2009 after being diagnosed with asthma and COPD.
He started losing his memory three years later, at age 50, and over time began to struggle with basic tasks like parallel parking, even though he once drove a fire truck with ease as a member of Ladder 154 in Jackson Heights, Queens.
An MRI revealed Ron had the brain of an 85-year-old and he went on to suffer seizures and can no longer speak coherently, said his wife, Dawn said.
“Ron doesn’t know I’m his wife,” she said.
“I absolutely do think his condition is related to working at the pile. There was a tremendous amount of exposure to toxins.”
She added: “I want to talk about Ron’s condition because a lot of men and women are falling through the cracks.”
The early onset of dementia is just the latest medical woe to befall Sept. 11 responders and other survivors.
Previous studies have found that an unusually high number of men exposed to toxins at Ground Zero were diagnosed with breast cancer, students who went to school in the vicinity at the time developed rare cancers and firefighters were found to have a higher risk for heart disease.
Hundreds diagnosed with varying illnesses or underlying conditions have also been killed by COVID-19.
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