Brain injury doubles risk of dementia says new research

by Nicola Selby-Short

Brain injury doubles risk of dementia says new research


A new study by scientists from the University of California-San Francisco suggests those who experience traumatic brain injury double their risk of developing dementia.

Senior investigator, Kristine Yaffe MD, looked at medical records of nearly 300,000 US military veterans, all 55 years of age or older, to ascertain any relationship between dementia in later life and traumatic brain injury (TBI). About 2% of those people whose records were examined had suffered some form of traumatic brain injury. 

For the purposes of the study, a TBI was defined as a diagnosis of a concussion, post-concussion syndrome, a skull fracture or some non-specific head injury made during at least one inpatient or outpatient visit between 1997 and 2000.

Veteran's medical records were used because TBI is the ‘signature wound’ of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where it accounts for 22% of casualties overall and 59% of blast-related injuries.  The incidence of TBI is therefore much greater among military personnel and those veterans are also far more likely to have had their health regularly monitored by doctors for a consistently long period.

The incidence of dementia was found to be 15% in those with a brain injury diagnosis, compared with almost 7% in those who had never had a TBI.  The researchers claim these findings show that head injury of any kind is an important risk factor for developing dementia in later life and supports other studies which have also suggested that TBI can increase the risk of dementia.  

Indeed those previous studies also suggested that suffering a brain injury could cause dementia to hit earlier with symptoms that could worsen far quicker than might otherwise be expected.

One clear recommendation of the University of California study is that if you know you've had a head injury and you are approaching older age, you should be carefully monitored and screened for cognitive dementia as a precaution.

More research is needed to explore whether early rehabilitation can also help to reduce the risk of contracting dementia, which reinforces the key point that it’s not just the immediate aftermath of a TBI that is crucial.  The medium to long-term impact of a brain injury should also never be underestimated.

Aside from any compensation, the most crucial consideration is to get rehabilitation in place as quickly as possible to enable a speedy recovery.  The immediate aim is to get your life back to something near to normality and deal with the implications of that injury – short, medium and long term - for the entire family. 

It seems that being aware of the increased possibility of problems with cognitive dementia and Alzheimer’s down the line is also something that should be factored into whatever support is in place for brain injury victims and their loved ones.

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