Large Study Finds a Strong Association Between Dementia and Traumatic Brain Injury

In the past, we have covered the evolving research on concussions and traumatic brain injury (TBI) in relation to dementia risk. For example, when Aaron Hernandez passed away at the age of 27, his brain provided researchers with some remarkable clues.

Formally a professional NFL player, he had been suffering from the worst case of chronic encephalopathy ever seen in someone his age. This brain condition is associated with repeated blows to the head, resulting in an increased risk of dementia.

We then covered the link between contact sports and brain health, as well as the long-term effects of concussions. More recently, a study on traumatic brain injury and dementia risk was published in the Lancet Psychiatry. Being the largest study of its kind, the true effects of traumatic brain injury are becoming much more apparent.

New Study Offers Evidence on the Dangers of Repeated Head Injuries

The largest and first of its kind, this study included data from 2.8 million people in Denmark. After examining 36 years of health records, it was found that even a single severe brain injury can increase the risk of dementia later in life. In fact, one’s risk increased to 35 percent in comparison to someone who had never experienced brain trauma.

Those who experienced a mild brain injury increased their risk of 17 percent. The researchers also found that the risk of dementia increased 33 percent for two or three TBIs, 61 percent for four TBIs, and 183 percent for five or more TBIs.

Another important finding was based on when someone has a brain injury. For those in their 20s, a brain injury can increase their risk of dementia in their 50s by 60 percent.

Although these numbers are alarming, it is important to note that the majority of individuals who sustain a single concussion will not go on to develop dementia. On that note, the researchers did recommend that following a TBI, it is important to get an evaluation.

BrainTest® is a scientifically-validated app that can help individuals track their cognition across time. In turn, this tool helps detect early warning signs of dementia and mild cognitive impairment. Taken in the comfort of your home, it is a simple and effective way to increase awareness and overall peace-of-mind.

Symptoms of TBI

Common in contact sports, when an individual suffers a blow to the head, a number of symptoms may follow. It is important to be aware of the following symptoms, as they may indicate that a brain injury has occurred.

  • A lack of consciousness
  • Increased confusion
  • Memory problems
  • A headache
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Blurry vision
  • Changes in emotion or sleep patterns
  • Ringing in the ears

Understanding the Severity of a TBI

How severe the symptoms are, will determine the severity of the TBI itself.

  • Mild TBI — This is what is more commonly known as a concussion. In this case, an individual may or may not be knocked out. If they do lose consciousness, they are out for 30 minutes or less. Most often, symptoms will appear at the time of the event, but may also surface days or weeks later. The symptoms are typically temporary and clear up within hours, days, or weeks.
  • Moderate TBI — In this case, an individual will be unconscious for more than 30 minutes. Symptoms will be similar to cases of mild TBI but will be more severe and longer-lasting.
  • Severe TBI — Individuals will be knocked unconscious for more than 24 hours. Once again, symptoms are similar but are more severe and will last longer.

As stated by the researchers in the study above, even a mild brain injury can lead to potential changes in the brain. However, the more severe the TBI, the higher the risk of dementia later in life. As stated in another key study, which looked at 40,000 working-age adults, TBI may even trigger a process that later results in dementia.

The results were so significant that the monitoring of all TBI patients is highly recommended. Also, the researchers stated that TBI may cause dementia before old age, and believe that dementia caused by such injuries are more common than they initially thought.

Preventing Traumatic Brain Injury

Commonly associated with contact sports, TBI can result from any blow or jolt to the head or body. This means that TBI can occur following a car accident or a fall. Other common causes include combat injuries and violence.

To prevent TBI, it is recommended that you:

  • Always wear a seat belt and ensure that small children sit in the back seat to protect them from the airbags.
  • Whenever you are riding a bicycle, skateboard, motorcycle, or any other moving vehicle, wear a helmet. This is also the case when skiing, snowboarding, playing contact sports or riding a horse. As reported on Medical Daily, a helmet can reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent and severe TBI by 88 percent.
  • To prevent falls, install handrails where necessary, use nonslip mats in the bathroom, reduce clutter, and remain physically active to maintain strength and balance.

Taking a proactive approach today could significantly reduce your risk of life-altering consequences in the future. Increasing your awareness is the first critical step. Be sure to stay up-to-date with our Knowledge Center to discover more about dementia and overall brain health today!

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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