Traumatic Brain Injuries Are Tied to Dementia

Lynette PayneApr 12, 2018

The study is based on analyzing 36 years of medical records for almost 2.8 million people in Denmark over age 50, looking at their histories of brain injuries, dementia and other medical conditions.

According to its findings, the overall risk for dementia is 24 percent higher for those who have suffered a single TBI against individuals with no history of this type of injury. The researchers found that the risk of dementia increased by 33 percent for two or three TBIs, 61 percent for four injuries and 183 percent for five or more injuries.

Lead author Jesse Fann, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine, stated: "What surprised us was that even a single mild TBI was associated with a significantly higher risk of dementia".

Dr Carol Routledge, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "This well-conducted study adds significant weight to previous evidence of a link between head injury and an increased risk of dementia".

Researchers analyzed 36 years of health records of 2.8 million people in Denmark, where a national health system makes it possible to explore connections in a far-reaching way. It extends from a mild sports concussion - an elbow to the head in a basketball game, for example - that results in very brief or no unconsciousness and no structural harm to the brain, to the most severe brain injuries that can cause extended unconsciousness, coma or even prove fatal.

The researchers also found that a single severe TBI increased the risk of dementia by 35% (0.8% of participants with dementia had at least one severe TBI vs 0.1% of participants without dementia), whilst one mild TBI increased the risk by 17% (4.3% vs 4.0%). It is important to avoid other behaviors that may promote dementia, such as smoking or increased alcohol consumption. Leading causes include falls, motor vehicle accidents, and assaults.

There are about 10 million new dementia cases each year.

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". Among first TBI diagnoses, 85 percent had been characterized as mild and 15 percent had been characterized as severe or skull fracture. Of those, 5.3 percent had sustained at least one TBI during the observation period, which began in 1977.

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.

There are nearly 350,000 hospital admissions due to brain damage in the United Kingdom per year, which comes to an average of one injury every 90 seconds.

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