A cohort study of neuropsychological functioning in spouses of U.S. Gulf War veterans

Life Sci. 2021 Nov 1:284:119894. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2021.119894. Epub 2021 Aug 25.

Abstract

Aims: Veterans of the 1991 Gulf War reported symptoms in their spouses that mirrored veterans' symptoms following their return from the war, including problems with attention and memory. Neuropsychological functioning in these spouses has not been examined with objective tests. This study sought to determine if these spouses exhibited deficits in neuropsychological functioning.

Main methods: Spouses of a national cohort of 1991 Gulf War deployed (n = 470) and non-deployed veterans (n = 524) were examined with neuropsychological tests in 1999-2001.

Key findings: Neuropsychological tests were factor analyzed yielding five factors: verbal memory, visual memory, attention/working memory, visual organization, and motor speed. Spouses of deployed and nondeployed veterans did not differ on mean factor scores, percentage of impaired factors, or individual test scores. Spouse attention/working memory was related to their having diagnoses of PTSD or anxiety disorders, or self-reported symptoms of current anxiety. Spouse visual memory was related to a diagnosis of current depression. Spouse motor speed was related to their own status of having chronic multisymptom illness (CMI).

Significance: Spouses of Gulf War deployed and nondeployed veterans demonstrated similar neuropsychological functioning, although spouses with psychiatric diagnoses and symptoms, or CMI demonstrated neuropsychological impairments characteristic of those conditions, suggesting that monitoring spouses for these conditions and impairments may be warranted. This pattern of relative weaknesses mirrors some of the previously reported findings for Gulf War veterans, although the veterans displayed neuropsychological impairments beyond what was accounted for by these conditions.

Keywords: Cognitive; Gulf war; Military; Neurocognitive; Spouse.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bias
  • Chronic Disease / psychology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Gulf War*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Neuropsychological Tests*
  • Spouses / psychology*
  • Veterans*