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Study shows increased rates of dementia in 9/11 first responders

FILE - In this Oct. 11, 2001 file photo, firefighters make their way over the ruins of the World Trade Center through clouds of dust and smoke at ground zero in New York. With the Oct. 3, 2013 deadline looming, more than 32,000 people have applied to the federal compensation fund for people with illnesses that might be related to toxic fallout from the attacks, program officials said. (AP Photo/Stan Honda, Pool, File)
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Firefighters make their way over the ruins of the World Trade Center through clouds of dust and smoke at ground zero in New York.

Almost 5% of first responders in the Stony Brook study showed signs of dementia before age 60, far greater than the .5% that doctors expect to see in the general population.

The data also shows that first responders who used personal protective equipment (PPE) such as hazmat suits and respirators were less likely to develop dementia.

Five thousand workers who helped clean up after the September 11th attacks participated in the long-term research study published in JAMA Network Open.

“It highlights very much the long-term benefits of PPE and the crucial nature of being a little bit suspicious about the safety of air after a disaster like this," said Sean Clouston, lead author of the report and a public health professor at Stony Brook University.

Dementia patients can lose their abilities to remember, communicate and make decisions. Most patients are over 65; the average age of the study participants was 53.

Dr. Benjamin Luft with the Stony Brook WTC Health and Wellness Program said the study proves how crucial it is to use protective gear when cleaning up after a disaster due to the threat of toxic exposure.

“I think what’s most important is that we have to learn from this," Luft said. "These types of studies have to be translated into policy.”

The rubble of the World Trade Center in Manhattan burned for three months after the attacks, emitting toxic smoke and ash.

Exposure to toxins at the clean-up site has already been linked to respiratory illnesses and cancers.

Desiree reports on the lives of military service members, veterans, and their families for WSHU as part of the American Homefront project. Born and raised in Connecticut, she now calls Long Island home.