Office of Research & Development

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VA Research Spotlight

Highlights of VA research on brain health

March 9, 2018

In honor of Brain Awareness Week, our focus is on research that looks at brain injury, neurodegenerative disease, and mental health.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Traumatic brain injury Fact Sheet The Department of Defense estimates that 22 percent of all combat casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan are brain injuries. TBI is also a significant cause of disability outside of military settings, most often as the result of assaults, falls, automobile accidents, or sports injuries. It can involve symptoms ranging from headaches, irritability, and sleep disorders to memory problems, slower thinking, and depression.

* For more information on research devoted to brain health see our topic pages on Alzheimer's Disease, Depression, Mental Health, Parkinson's Disease, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).


VA Research Currents

The loneliness factor: How much does it drive depression in Veterans? The loneliness factor: How much does it drive depression in Veterans?

To what extent does loneliness contribute to depression in Veterans? A VA-funded study has addressed that relatively unexplored question. (02/28/2018)



VA launches telehealth program for rural Vets with PTSD VA launches telehealth program for rural Vets with PTSD

VA has launched a pilot telehealth program that will give rural Veterans with PTSD remote access to psychotherapy and related services. The effort builds on years of prior research showing how PTSD therapy can be delivered effectively via video. (02/15/2018



/currents/0218-VA-launches-telehealth-program-for-rural-Vets-with-PTSD.cfmDrug used for PTSD nightmares falls short in large VA trial

The drug prazosin, used widely to help ease PTSD nightmares, did no better than placebo in a large VA trial. Despite the apparent overall failure, the researchers contend there are subgroups of Veterans who do in fact benefit from the treatment. (02/08/2018)



PTSD and accelerated aging: How advanced is the science?PTSD and accelerated aging: How advanced is the science?

Two Boston-based psychologists with VA's National Center for PTSD are at the forefront of understanding the long-term biological impacts of PTSD, including accelerated aging at the cellular level. (01/16/2018)



White matter damage linked to chronic musculoskeletal pain in Gulf War Veterans White matter damage linked to chronic musculoskeletal pain in Gulf War Veterans

A study from the Madison VA Hospital in Wisconsin has linked structural damage in the white matter of the brain to chronic musculoskeletal pain in Gulf War Veterans. (10/26/2017)

Awards & Career Milestones

Dr. Elaine PeskindVA psychiatrist Dr. Elaine Peskind receives Paul B. Magnuson Award

Dr. Elaine Peskind has been awarded the VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Service's highest honor—the Paul B. Magnuson Award. It is given to acknowledge entrepreneurship, humanitarianism, and dedication in service to Veterans. (Feb. 14, 2018)







Dr. Ann McKeeVA researcher Ann McKee named Bostonian of the Year

Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology at VA Boston Healthcare System, was named 2017 Bostonian of the Year by the Boston Globe, for her groundbreaking work on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition that occurs after long-term, repetitive injuries to the brain. (Dec. 18, 2017)

VA Researchers Who Served

Dr. Racine BrownDr. Racine Brown is a post-doctoral fellow at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa. He’s involved in research that is based largely on the VA TBI Model System. The initiative produces data that are intended to assist VA in planning for care and support of the many Veterans and families affected by traumatic brain injury. (Feb. 14, 2018)


VA Research News Briefs

Lab study suggests curcumin could improve memory, mood in Gulf War illness - Photo:©iStock/onairjiwPhoto:©iStock/onairjiw

Lab study suggests curcumin could improve memory, mood in Gulf War illness

Curcumin may lead to better cognitive and mood for those with Gulf War illness, according to a rat study by Olin E. Teague Veterans' Medical Center and Texas A&M researchers. Curcumin is a natural antioxidant compound found in turmeric and other plants, and is sometimes sold as an herbal supplement. Rats with simulated Gulf War illness symptoms were treated with either curcumin or a placebo for 30 days. Those in the curcumin group had better cognitive and mood function, based on behavioral tests. They also had better neurogenesis (growth and development of nerve tissue) and lower inflammation than the placebo group. The researchers hypothesize that changes in gene expression caused by curcumin could improve memory and mood symptoms related to Gulf War illness. (Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, Feb. 15, 2018)

Memory tests are accurate for diagnosing Alzheimer's - Photo: ©iStock/marrio31Photo: ©iStock/marrio31

Memory tests are accurate for diagnosing Alzheimer's

Memory tests are able to differentiate between those with and without Alzheimer's disease, found a review by researchers from several VA systems. In the 47 studies included by the researchers, measures of immediate and delayed memory had high diagnostic accuracy for Alzheimer's. Memory tests had lower accuracy for diagnosing mild cognitive impairment, based on 38 studies. While memory tests and other psychological testing can be useful for diagnosing Alzheimer's and other cognitive deficits, they are not required in the current diagnosis criteria. The researchers suggest that these tests should be emphasized when diagnosing the conditions. (Neuropsychology Review, December 2017)

View more VA Research News Briefs


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