“Soldiers get blown on their butt from an improvised explosive device (IED). Often they lose consciousness for 30 seconds to six minutes — but there’s no penetrating injury,” said David K. Johnson, associate professor at the University of Kansas. Johnson is the principal investigator of a team of researchers on a clinical trial to improve soldiers’ quality of life to assess intensive cardiorespiratory exercise (ICE) as a way to help wounded warriors recover from mTBI. He said mTBI and Alzheimer’s disease share common symptoms — memory and thinking problems but also depression and anxiety. What’s more, mTBI triggers a buildup of amyloid plaque and tau tangles in neuronal cell bodies and injured axons, which happen to be the hallmark brain lesions of Alzheimer’s disease.
To assess the benefits of the ICE exercise program, more than 100 volunteers at Fort Riley will go through cognitive and physical fitness testing before and after ICE. “We use a battery of cognitive tests that we’ve found to be very sensitive to Alzheimer’s disease. We expect to see improvement in these soldiers’ abilities — they’ll be sharper and more focused — but the pattern of improvement should be the same as our older adults who are also fighting off Alzheimer’s. We expect to see patterns emerge from the data that will help us understand if we are attacking the Alzheimer’s pathological process.”