Improving Cognitive Functions in World Trade Center Responders

Thumyat Noe ’23

Figure 1: Names of victims inscribed at the 9/11 memorial.

Individuals who responded to the World Trade Center attacks on September 11th, 2001 experienced a great deal of trauma and distress. Researchers from Stony Brook University who study well-being and cognitive abilities discovered that these responders are at an elevated relative risk of developing aging-related cognitive impairment. In particular, lower cognitive function is correlated with higher levels of exposure to trauma in World Trade Center responders. Researchers hypothesized that responders’ cognitive impairment may be related to hippocampal damage. 

The hippocampus is an important brain structure that is involved in emotional processing and memory formation. Subdivisions of the hippocampus also play a role in cognitive processes such as pattern separation and memory encoding. The purpose of this study was to investigate a possible relationship between cognitive impairment and reduction in the volume of the hippocampus in World Trade Center responders. In order to test their hypothesis, researchers recruited participants from a clinic-based monitoring program in the World Trade Center Health Program and assessed the cognitive functions of participants with computer-based tasks. Clinical interviewers then evaluated PTSD in participants. Lastly, researchers examined hippocampal volumes in participants with image acquisition and processing techniques. 

Results showed that smaller hippocampal volumes correlated with longer time spent at the World Trade Center. Lower scores on cognitive tasks also significantly correlated with lower volumetric measures in hippocampal subregions, supporting the hypothesis that trauma experienced during 9/11 increased the risk of cognitive impairment in responders. However, the population within this study consisted of mostly non-Hispanic Whites and a few females. Therefore, future studies should consider increasing the diversity of the sample population. The study presents strong evidence that reductions in the volume of the hippocampus and its subregions contribute to cognitive impairment in World Trade Center responders. This information could be essential in developing effective interventions that reduce the risk of cognitive impairment in responders. 

Works Cited: 

[1] Y. Deri, et al., Selective hippocampal subfield volume reductions in World Trade Center responders with cognitive impairment. Alzheimer’s Dement 13, 1-12 (2021). doi: 10.1002/dad2.12165

[2] Image retrieved from:


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