In the 26 years since the first Gulf War, increasing numbers of deployed veterans have complained of cognitive problems, including decrements in attention and memory. Now, a meta-analysis of recent studies led by Boston University School of Public Health researchers confirms those lapses in attention, executive function, visuospatial abilities, and learning and memory, and recommends more focus on those problems in research and treatment trials.
“Cognitive complaints are one of the most debilitating hallmark symptoms of Gulf War Illness (GWI), and over the past 25 years, researchers have assessed the nature of the dysfunction associated with the disorder using neuropsychological methods,” the analysis says. “Our results validate previously reported cognitive decrement findings” in deployed veterans, who performed worse than their non-deployed counterparts, and in ill veterans, who performed worse than their healthy peers.
The report is the first meta-analysis intended to clarify the neuropsychological profile of Gulf War veterans, the authors said. They found that a total of 25 separate neuropsychological tests had been administered to veterans and reported in published studies in the last two decades, and that while results varied, cognitive decrements were a recurring finding.
“Across all neuropsychological tests, the … analysis showed that the Gulf-deployed veterans performed worse, with statistically significant reductions in performance, on the visuospatial subtest, all four of the attention and executive function outcomes, and two of the six learning and memory subtests,” the study says. Meanwhile, no tests of motor skills or academic achievement were significantly different.