Association of Military Employment With Late-Life Cognitive Decline and Dementia: A Population-Based Prospective Cohort Study

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Military medicine








INTRODUCTION: As the number of U.S. veterans over age 65 has increased, interest in whether military service affects late-life health outcomes has grown. Whether military employment is associated with increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia remains unclear. MATERIALS AND METHODS: We used data from 4,370 participants of the longitudinal Adult Changes in Thought (ACT) cohort study, enrolled at age 65 or older, to examine whether military employment was associated with greater cognitive decline or higher risk of incident dementia in late life. We classified persons as having military employment if their first or second-longest occupation was with the military. Cognitive status was assessed at each biennial Adult Changes in Thought study visit using the Cognitive Abilities Screening Instrument, scored using item response theory (CASI-IRT). Participants meeting screening criteria were referred for dementia ascertainment involving clinical examination and additional cognitive testing. Primary analyses were adjusted for sociodemographic characteristics and APOE genotype. Secondary analyses additionally adjusted for indicators of early-life socioeconomic status and considered effect modification by age, gender, and prior traumatic brain injury with loss of consciousness TBI with LOC. RESULTS: Overall, 6% of participants had military employment; of these, 76% were males. Military employment was not significantly associated with cognitive change (difference in modeled 10-year cognitive change in CASI-IRT scores in SD units (95% confidence interval [CI]): -0.042 (-0.19, 0.11), risk of dementia (hazard ratio [HR] [95% CI]: 0.92 [0.71, 1.18]), or risk of Alzheimer's disease dementia (HR [95% CI]: 0.93 [0.70, 1.23]). These results were robust to additional adjustment and sensitivity analyses. There was no evidence of effect modification by age, gender, or traumatic brain injury with loss of consciousness. CONCLUSIONS: Among members of the Adult Changes in Thought cohort, military employment was not associated with increased risk of cognitive decline or dementia. Nevertheless, military veterans face the same high risks for cognitive decline and dementia as other aging adults.