The lasting cognitive impact on 9/11’s Ground Zero first responders
The twentieth anniversary of 9/11 took place this past weekend. It was a day of reflection, heavy with the sentiment that we must “never forget” what transpired. There were endless stories on the heroism of first responders in Ground Zero but the story that gave me the most pause was this Washington Post article on “The Mystery of 9/11 and Dementia”.
The article by Patrick Hruby starts with Ron Kirchner. Ron was a firefighter in Queens. He was in his thirties on September 11, 2001. By 2009, Ron was retired on disability. He had asthma and lung disease that were both linked to Ground Zero exposure. By 2015, Ron was diagnosed with dementia. He was only 52 years old at the time. Ron’s neurologist thought that his brain scan resembled the brain scan of an 85-year old. Ron now requires full-time care as he has trouble speaking, eating, and bathing.
In one study, 9/11 first responders were found to report instances of cognitive impairment three times the rate of people in their 70’s.
In another study, first responders with PTSD and cognitive impairments were found to have both blood and brain protein abnormalities as those with Alzheimer’s.
The article notes that cognitive ailments are not currently covered under the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, a federal statute that provides health care and compensation to responders, survivors, and victims. In order to add cognitive ailments to the Act, more research is needed to show that the condition is substantially likely caused by 9/11 exposures.
Hopefully, with the media attention on 9/11 first responders and their needs, funding for all necessary research will be made available to effectively help this tremendous group of individuals.
Thanks for reading.