Dementia in Scottish military veterans: early evidence from a retrospective cohort study

Psychol Med. 2023 Feb;53(3):1015-1020. doi: 10.1017/S0033291721002440. Epub 2021 Jun 24.


Background: Few studies have examined whether UK military veterans are at an increased risk of dementia. We explored the risk of dementia in Scottish military veterans aged up to 73 years in comparison with people who have never served.

Methods: Retrospective cohort study of 78 000 veterans and 253 000 people with no record of service, matched for age, sex and area of residence, with up to 37 years follow-up, using Cox proportional hazard analysis to compare risk of dementia in veterans and non-veterans, overall and by subgroup.

Results: Dementia was recorded in 0.2% of both veterans and non-veterans overall, Cox proportional hazard ratio 0.98, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.82-1.19, p = 0.879 (landmark age: 50 years), with no difference for men but increased risk in veteran women and Early Service Leavers. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was associated with a higher risk of dementia in both veterans and non-veterans, although possibly to a lesser degree in veterans. A history of mood disorder was strongly associated with developing dementia, greater in veterans than in non-veterans, odds ratio 1.54, 95% CI 1.01-2.35, p = 0.045.

Conclusions: There was no evidence to suggest that military service increased the risk of dementia, although this may change as the cohort ages. The well-documented association with PTSD shows no evidence of being stronger in veterans; by contrast, the association of mood disorder with dementia is much stronger in veterans. Healthcare providers should carefully assess the cognitive status of older veterans presenting with depressive illness in order to identify early dementia and ensure optimum management.

Keywords: Dementia; military veterans; mood disorder; post-traumatic stress disorder; retrospective cohort studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dementia* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Scotland / epidemiology
  • Veterans* / psychology