UW research links brain injuries with dementia

Concussion in 20s could increase the risk of dementia by 60 per cent, Lancet study finds

"People who have suffered traumatic brain injury (...) are at an increased risk of developing dementia, even decades after the injury", explains study leader Jesse Fann of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

A single TBI characterised as "severe" increased the risk by 35 per cent while a single "mild" TBI or concussion increased the risk by 17 per cent, revealed the research.

"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", Fann said.

The study found that overall, those who sustained a TBI were 24% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia over the study period compared to those who had not suffered such an injury.

Researchers found the "fully adjusted risk of all-cause dementia in people with a history of TBI was higher than in those without a history of TBI, as was the specific risk of Alzheimer's disease". From 1999 to 2013, 4.5 percent of the patients over age 50 years developed dementia.

Each year, more than 50 million people worldwide suffer a traumatic brain injury, which occurs when a bump or blow to the head disrupts normal brain function.

The study included 36 years of follow-up, as well as access to a uniform healthcare system that tracks the number and severity of TBIs.

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

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A traumatic brain injury can be caused by a fall, a traffic accident, a sports accident or a violent attack.

According to Fann, most people who sustain a single concussion do not develop dementia and the findings do not suggest that every person who sustains a severe TBI will develop dementia later in life.

"TBI was associated with an increased risk of dementia both compared with people without a history of TBI and with people with non-TBI trauma", the authors write.

However, the study results could lead people with TBI histories to change certain behaviors like alcohol and tobacco use, regular exercise and treating hypertension, diabetes and depression to limit other potential risk factors for dementia. "Greater efforts to prevent TBI and identify strategies to ameliorate the risk and impact of subsequent dementia are needed".

The findings also show that men with a history of TBI had a slightly higher risk of developing dementia than women.

"Shedding light on risk factors for dementia is one of the most important tasks in health research".

The authors note some limitations, including that the study included people taken from one country with a fairly similar ethnic population, so the findings can not be generalised to all ethnic groups in other countries.

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