Traumatic Brain Injuries Are Tied to Dementia

Grant Boone
April 12, 2018

This study is one of the first of its kind to have a sufficient sample size and follow-up time to assess the effect of traumatic brain injuries in younger adults on long-term dementia risk. "However, it's important to emphasise that although the relative risk of dementia is increased after TBI, the absolute risk increase is low", commented lead researcher, Prof Jesse Fann, of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

The risk of developing dementia has been shown to be far greater in individuals who have suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) in the past. The risk was increased almost three-fold for people who had suffered five or more TBIs.

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.

According to the study authors, more than 50 million people every year experience a traumatic brain injury. Leading causes of TBI include falls, traffic crashes and assaults.

While not every person who sustains a severe TBI will develop dementia, the findings might such people to change their behaviours toward potential risk factors for dementia, such as limiting alcohol and tobacco use, engaging in regular exercise, preventing obesity and treating hypertension, diabetes and depression, the researchers said.

A single, mild brain injury increased future dementia risk by 17 percent, Fann said. "Our findings suggest that improved traumatic brain injury prevention programmes may have an opportunity to reduce the burden of dementia worldwide".

Researchers found that age plays a factor: "the younger younger a person was when sustaining a TBI, the higher the HRs [hazard ratios] for dementia when stratified by time since TBI".

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There are about 10 million new dementia cases each year.

Dementia remained relatively rare: only 4.7 percent of study participants developed dementia at all, a total of 126,734 people.

Measuring pupil reactivity to light could assist with treatment decisions for brain injuries, they say.

Previous research has suggested a link between TBI, including mild TBI (concussion) and subsequent dementia.

In the first TBI diagnoses, 85 per cent had been characterised as mild and 15 per cent had been characterised as severe or skull fracture.

Among men and women with TBI histories, men had slightly higher rate of developing dementia (30 percent vs. 19 percent).

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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