Two new studies indicate 9/11 first responders at higher risk of dementia from exposure to Ground Zero toxins

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In the 19 years since Sept. 11, 2001, the mantra among surviving World Trade Center first responders was always the same: Never forget.

Now some of those heroes who spent weeks digging through the toxic rubble of the twin towers are at risk of losing their memories to dementia linked to their time working at Ground Zero, according to a pair of new studies by Stony Brook University researchers.

“It is very ironic,” said Dr. Benjamin Luft, director of the Stony Brook WTC Health and Wellness Program, who partnered with Dr. Sean Clouston on the projects. “We’re looking at a responder community, covered in the toxic dust that covered lower Manhattan. It really gives us pause.”

The first study’s findings, to be presented virtually Tuesday at the Alzheimer Association’s International Conference, used MRI imaging to assess the brain’s gray matter thickness in participating first responders. The researchers discovered a dangerous thinning of the gray matter, with evidence the responders’ “brain age” is about 10 years older on average than the typical person of the same age.

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