Veterans With Gulf War Illness Show Brain Changes Linked to Memory Deficits

New research illuminates definitive brain alterations in troops with Gulf War Illness (GWI) thought to result from the exposure to neurotoxic chemicals, including sarin gas, during the first Persian Gulf War.

“More than 250,000 troops, or approximately 25% of those deployed during the first Persian Gulf War, have been diagnosed with Gulf War Illness (GWI). Although medical professionals have recognized the chronic and often disabling illness for almost two decades, brain changes that uniquely identify GWI have been elusive until now,” explained researcher Bart Rypma, principal investigator at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas.

This study, published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, is novel in that it confirms GWI deficits in working memory, a critical cognitive function that enables short-term retention of information for higher-level thinking ability.

In addition, brain alterations revealed in the study show a consistent pattern representing a neurobiological marker that could potentially be used to positively identify GWI.

The research team assessed three aspects of working memory: accuracy, speed, and efficiency. Results showed that participants with GWI performed significantly slower and less accurately than matched healthy veterans, and their efficiency decreased with increasing task difficulty.

During these difficult conditions, the participants showed relatively lower levels of activity in prefrontal brain regions which may compromise their ability to implement effective, higher-level thinking strategies in cognitively demanding situations.

“Our results revealed that at the root of cognitive issues in GWI patients are profound working memory deficits that correlate with a unique brain change visible in the fMRI scanner. These results support an empirical link between exposure to neurotoxic chemicals, specifically sarin nerve gas, and cognitive deficits and neurobiological changes in the brain,” said Rypma. “Implementing interventions that improve working memory could have positive effects on many aspects of daily life from the ability to complete a shopping list, match names with faces, all the way to elevating mood.”

“Difficulty remembering has been the most common, unexplained impairment resulting from service in the 1991 Persian Gulf War,” said Robert Haley, co-investigator and Chief of Epidemiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “This functional MRI study provides the first objective evidence showing the exact malfunctions in the brain’s memory circuits that underlie these chemically induced memory problems.”

The new findings may also have implications for the treatment of several disorders involving similar neural systems, including one Alzheimer’s disease.

“Both GWI and Alzheimer’s disease result in profound cognitive impairment and share similar neurochemical underpinnings,” explained the study’s lead author Nicholas Hubbard. “The distinct neural markers associated with cognitive performance and GWI revealed in our study can be useful for future research to objectively measure the efficacy of treatments for GWI as well as other brain disorders related to the same neurotransmitter system, like Alzheimer’s disease.”


I have been having memory losses problems for quite a while. The last couple of years it has gotten alot worse.

My memory loss was noticeable but over the past year and more so the past six months it has been debilitating affecting my work.

My husband cannot complete anything. He changed my tire, but did not tighten lug nuts. Tire almost fell off while I was driving. He changed oil but did not close hole on disposal container. It has gotten worse since Dec. 2017 I feel like I am working with a 10 year old! I am afraid to where this is going.

My brother, Chief Warrant Officer who served in the Gulf War, and was on the base when the shooting occurred at Fort Hood Texas has been extremely affected by memory loss. At this time he has the mental capacity of a four or five year old child. When you try to talk to him he has trouble processing simple sentences. Going downhill fast. You can ask are you hungry? He can’t process what the word hungry is. He is only 59 years old. It is truly a nightmare to witness this illness taking over my dear brother. Does anyone have a story that can relate to this one. It seems all of this is being kept secret.

I am so love has begun to experience some mild loss of memory. He is 70 soon..Where do we start..i guess there is nothing that can be done? I will be by his side through this journey..alwaysBut like I said…I am so angry..

I referred my youngest sister to this site after sending her a text concerning this issue. To be truthful she stresses me as it appears as though she can’t understand that her 62 year old brother can Remember something that I may have addressed a month ago but but now can’t recall the details of a month ago. To close, on 2/18/91 I was embarked on the U. S. S. Tripoli when we sustained damage from a mine strike. So I can say is, when General Quarters is real and grown men are calling for their mothers. WAR CHANGES PEOPLE. I am out.

my problem since the gulf is long term memory everything before the war I have some problems. But after the war unless I do the same thing daily I will forget it with in a week. Now it’s getting worse. I’m forgetting names places I have been going to for years. Or roads I have driven for years I can be driving and forget where I’m at or where I’m even going. I’m only 55 I can not even remember my kids birthdays

I can’t remember simple conversations from the day before. I’ll ask my girlfriend if I told her this or that and she’ll say yes, you told me yesterday. I’ll walk into a room to do something and forget why I went in there and what I was going to do? I misplace things regularly and lose things too. I can’t remember peoples names. Ever since I came back from overseas but it wasn’t present right away. It’s been getting worse. PTSD related? IDK.

I have had and continue to have severe cognitive reasoning problems. I have ongoing situations where I can’t even recall important events in life and when asked to describe elements of my service history, I am unable to effectively recount them. It’s embarrassing and has even caused others to doubt that I even served. Its awful.

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