Traumatic Brain Injuries Are Tied to Dementia

Computer artwork of a brain in side view with the brain's neural network represented by lines and flashes

A nationwide study of 2.8 million Danes found those who sustained one or more traumatic brain injuries (TBI) over a 36-year period were 24 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with dementia than those without a history of TBI. Even a single mild T.B.I. increased the risk by 17 percent.

Commenting on the research, University College London neurology professor Jonathan Schott said it provided "perhaps the best evidence yet that traumatic brain injury is a risk factor for dementia".

'Over 95% of people who developed dementia in this study hadn't had a brain injury, so the study does not tell us that traumatic brain injury is a definite cause of dementia.

Even when controlling for other medical and psychiatric conditions associated with dementia, such as depression and hypertension, people with TBI were 1.24 times more likely to develop dementia than people without a brain injury.

Lead investigator Jesse Fann explains what that means in today's health report.

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In a separate project, Irish researchers are now looking to recruit 100 adults - without dementia or any form of significant cognitive difficulty - for a large scale study which hopes to identify early signs of dementia years before memory loss and confusion develop.

Dementia, a category of brain diseases that includes Alzheimer's, affects some 47 million people worldwide - a number expected to double in the next 20 years.

But it would be advisable for people who had suffered a severe knock to the head - whether in a fall, auto accident, through contact sport, or an assault - to take extra precautions.

Fann said it's important to recognize that most people who sustain a single concussion do not develop dementia.

Fann said another important finding is that if you have a brain injury in your 20s, the risk of developing dementia in your 50s is increased by 60 percent.

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The findings are particularly worrying in light of recent attention around the risk of concussion in contact sports like boxing, rugby and football.

Dr Carol Routledge, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, added that a healthy diet, drinking in moderation and not smoking were all things that can help maintain a healthy brain as we age.

While 85 per cent of the TBIs diagnosed were classed as mild, researchers said they are still likely to have been more serious concussions as the symptoms had to be severe or persistent enough to warrant a trip to hospital.

In total, 5.3 per cent of participants with dementia had a history of TBI compared with 4.7 per cent of those without the condition.

"If someone has a traumatic brain injury or concussion, they need to strictly follow the protocols to leave the game and get the proper assessment and treatment that is necessary." he said. And they looked at other types of trauma, such as broken bones, and found that brain injuries were more closely tied to dementia.

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