HEALTH REPORT: Traumatic Brain Injuries

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

After one of the largest ever investigations into the link between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and cognitive decline in later life, Danish and United States researchers concluded that the younger a person was when sustaining a head injury, the higher the risk of developing Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

Professor Jonathan Schott of UCL's Institute of Neurology said the research provides "perhaps the best evidence yet that traumatic brain injury is a risk factor for dementia", but said further work was required to differentiate types of injuries, such as sport-related concussions, and how they affect the brain.

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.

Scientists know that a blow to the head can damage brain cells, but they don't know exactly how that might lead to later cognitive problems, said lead researcher Dr. Jesse Fann of University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

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Suffering a traumatic brain injury from a blow to the head boosted dementia risk by 24 percent in a Danish study group of almost three million people, researchers said Wednesday.

The risk of dementia increased 33 per cent higher for two or three TBIs, 61 per cent higher for four TBIs, and 183 per cent higher for five or more TBIs. Even compared to that group, the TBI group had higher risk for dementia. Each year, there are ten million new patients. Every year, more than 50 million people worldwide experience a TBI, which occurs when an external force disrupts the brain's normal function.

Their study covers a period of 36 years. The researchers found that 4.3 percent of participants with dementia had at least one mild TBI, compared with 4 percent of those without dementia. Causes include road traffic accidents, falls, sporting accidents and assaults. The study also examined the impact of sustaining multiple separate brain injuries and the likelihood of subsequently developing dementia.

Fann said it's important to recognize that most people who sustain a single concussion do not develop dementia.

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They found 132,093 people had a TBI at some point between 1977-2013, and 126,734 were diagnosed with a form of dementia between 1999 and 2013.

However researchers in this study took account of other influences on dementia risk, like diabetes, heart disease, depression and substance abuse.

Men with TBI histories developed dementia at a 30 percent rate, while women had just a 19 percent rate.

"Shedding light on risk factors for dementia is one of the most important tasks in health research. Our findings suggest that improved traumatic brain injury prevention programmes may have an opportunity to reduce the burden of dementia worldwide".

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