Is There A Connection Between Dementia And Concussion?

dementia and concussion

Dementia researchers for a long time have been fascinated by the potential link between the risk of developing dementia after a concussion.

Mayo Clinic defines a concussion as a traumatic brain injury that affects the functions of the brain.

Its effects are normally temporary and can include headaches as well as problems with memory, coordination, balance, and concentration.

Can a Concussion Make Dementia Worse?

Blows to the head or violently shaking the upper body and head are the main causes of concussions.

In short, any severe head injury can lead to a concussion.

There is a very high chance that people will experience a concussion after falling or a motor accident.

Concussions are also common for people who play sports like soccer or football, as well as boxing.

Alzheimer’s Association describes dementia as a general term for loss of memory, problem-solving, language, and other thinking abilities.

It ends up affecting an individual’s daily life.

Many people with concussions usually recover fully.

New research, however, shows that there may be a link between increased risk of dementia development for people who have experienced concussions.

Some Studies Support The Increased Risk After Concussion

Does Dementia Risk Increase After a Concussion?
Several studies are supporting the idea that the risk of dementia can be increased by concussions.

One of the studies published in JAMA Neurology in May 2018 suggests that having a concussion can lead to increased dementia risk even when the person did not experience loss of consciousness.

The study was conducted by a team at UCSF (University of California).

There were over 350,000 participants in the study whose average age was 49. The researchers followed the participants for about 4.2 years.

The researchers also discovered that concussion without loss of consciousness accounted for a 2.4 fold in dementia increased risk.

When the concussion resulted in a loss of consciousness the risk of dementia increased up to 2.5 times higher.

The risk was higher for persons who experienced a moderate-to-severe traumatic injury almost four times (3.77).

The study also acknowledged that concussions in the general population were also risky for dementia and not for veterans alone. They draw the participants from two databases.

One of them has a list of all-era veterans who experienced concussions during military or civilian life.

The other has vets serving war zones meaning most of their injuries occurred in combat zones for example for shockwaves in blasts.

Concussions are risky for people with dementia

concussions are risky for people with dementia
The findings were similar in both groups.

This indicated that concussions happening in combat areas are as likely linked to the development of dementia as those affecting the general population according to Deborah Barnes the first author Ph.D., MPH, professor in UCSF psychiatry, epidemiology and biostatistics department.

The experts advised people who experienced concussions to seek medical attention. Also, to allow time to heal as well as try and avoid other concussions.

Although the research did not examine the issue of repeat concussions directly, there is growing evidence that it may result in a cumulative effect.

Different research from Boston University Medical Centre also concludes that there is a link between concussions and Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Note, AD is one of the most common causes of dementia.

The experts on the study concluded that concussions speed up cognitive decline and brain atrophy that relates to Alzheimer’s especially in persons who are at genetic risk for the medical condition. You can find these findings in the Brain journal.

The researchers observed 160 Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans.

Among them were participants who had suffered one or more concussions and others who had never had a concussion.

Concussions and genetics are crucial

concussions and genetics are crucial
The professionals used MRI imaging to study the thickness of the participant’s cerebral cortex in regions that first show atrophy in AD.

They found that those who experienced a concussion had lower cortical thickness in the regions of the brain that are first affected by Alzheimer’s.

Their results suggest that concussions when combined with genetic factors may play a role in accelerating memory decline and cortical thickness in AD’s relevant areas.

The experts on the study hope that other researchers will build-up on their findings to discover the concussion-related mechanisms that increase the development of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and others.

As a result, treatment may target the mechanisms which might lead to delaying the onset of neurodegenerative pathology.

Dementia and Concussion Closing Remarks

Currently, experts do not know the long-term effects that concussions cause.

More ‘dementia and concussion’ research is still necessary to determine whether concussions cause dementia development in later years.

Dementia and Head Injury Risk

dementia and head injury

Numerous studies have been done to find out the connection between dementia and head injury.

This is after suspicion that TBI (traumatic brain injury) which is usually caused by head injury normally disrupts the normal functions of the brain which can affect someone’s cognitive abilities such as thinking and learning skills.

Can a head injury make dementia worse?

Keep in mind that it is not everyone who gets a head injury will end up developing dementia.

The immediate effect of a head injury can induce symptoms that people with dementia also exhibit.

These can include things memory loss, confusion, changes in speech, personality and vision.

They can go away quickly, last for years, or never clear up depending on the severity of the injury.

Causes of Head Injury

causes of head injury
Some of the most common causes of head injuries that can lead to traumatic brain injury include:

  • Car accidents
  • Being struck on the head by objects
  • Bullet wounds
  • Falls
  • Assault
  • Injuries that penetrate the brain and skull
  • Blast injuries, etc.

The above causes the brain to jolt violently in the brain.

Each of them normally has different outcomes for the people they impact.

Some types of TBI can increase the risk of developing various types of dementia including Alzheimer’s years after the injury took place.

Reasons Head Injury may Result in Increased Dementia Risk

reasons head injury may result in increased dementia risk
There are a couple of mechanisms that explain the link between dementia and head injury.

One of them is that brain injury is known to accelerate or induce the accumulation of abnormal proteins.

This then leads to the death of neurons that are associated with some dementia types like Alzheimer’s disease.

There is also a possibility that trauma leaves the brain more vulnerable to other types of injuries.

Research that has been done on Dementia and Head Injury

research that has been done on dementia and head injury
As mentioned earlier, researchers have been trying to uncover the link between head injury and increased dementia risk.

Below are examples of research that has been done on this course.

Umea University Study

A study done at the Umea University in Sweden confirms that traumatic brain injury is one of the dementia risk factors.

It was after observing over three million people aged 50 years and above. This was published on 30th January 2018 in the PLOS medical journal.

It indicated that the risk of dementia diagnosis was highest during the first 12 months after the injury.

During this period, individuals with traumatic injuries are 4-6 times likely to get a positive dementia diagnosis when compared to the ones who do not have a traumatic brain injury.

The study also concluded that a traumatic brain injury or a concussion can increase the risk of dementia even 3 decades later.

Another study published in the Journal of Neurology discovered that a history of traumatic brain injury may increase by two or more years the age of onset for cognitive impairment.

Other studies also had similar results indicating that traumatic brain injury causes a significant risk when it comes to cognitive decline in the elderly.

It is also associated with earlier onset of in people with Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment.

Increased Risk in Boxers

Some research on dementia and head injury also reveals that boxers have an increased risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) which is a type of dementia.

CTE symptoms include confusion, memory loss, impulse control problems, impaired judgment, anxiety, aggression, suicidality, and progressive dementia.

The symptoms may show up after years or decades of traumatic brain injury.

This is mostly due to the number of rounds that the professional boxers rather than the times he or she was knocked out.

This implies that when someone suffers mild traumatic repeatedly, they are also at increased risk of getting dementia even when the injuries did not cause unconsciousness.

Researchers are yet to uncover whether CTE is likely to occur after several traumatic brain injuries, a large number of mild traumatic brain injuries, or some other forms of heard trauma patterns.

Brain Issues in other Professional Athletes

brain issues in other professional athletes
Several studies have also been done focusing on professional athletes including boxers, football players, and mixed martial arts fighters.

Most have found a connection to serious brain troubles later in life. These include dementia or CTE.

A UCSF study also reported that the risk of dementia doubles after a person suffers a concussion.

The researchers tracked over 330,000 veterans while trying to find the link between dementia and head injury.

After adjusting sex, age, education, race, and other health conditions, they stated that without loss of consciousness, people who had a concussion were 2.36 times likely to get dementia.

The number was higher for people who lost consciousness at 3.77 times higher.

The research focused on veterans and members of the general public and the findings were similar for both groups.

There is still no evidence that one mild traumatic brain injury can increase the risk of developing dementia.

Nonetheless, there is emerging evidence that states that repeated mild traumatic brain injuries lead to a greater risk of CTE.

Closing Thoughts

More research still needs to be done concerning dementia and head injury.

Scientists are working to establish the link between traumatic brain injury and the increased risk of dementia.

Based on the existing evidence, it is highly recommended that people protect their heads when participating in activities that can lead to head injury.

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