UW research links brain injuries with dementia

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Sustaining a traumatic brain injury (TBT) in your 20s may increase the risk of developing dementia including Alzheimer's in your 50s by 60 per cent, a review of almost three million patients has revealed. "And the relationship between the number of traumatic brain injuries and risk of dementia was very clear.similarly, a single severe brain injury seems to have twice the risk associated with dementia as a single mild traumatic brain injury".

"While there is growing interest in the question of whether collisions in sports like rugby or football might affect dementia risk, this study only looked at head injuries that required hospital treatment and doesn't tell us anything about the impacts you'd normally expect to see on the sports field".

Dr Carol Routledge, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "This well-conducted study adds significant weight to previous evidence of a link between head injury and an increased risk of dementia". A mild brain injury increased the risk by 17 percent. Each year, there are ten million new patients.

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A TBI is classified as a blow to the head which disrupts the normal functioning of the brain. From 1999 to 2013, 4.5 percent of the patients over age 50 years developed dementia, of those, 5.3 percent had sustained at least one TBI during the observation period, which began in 1977. Leading causes include falls, motor vehicle accidents, and assaults.

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. For example, individuals having a TBI in their 20s were 63% more likely to develop dementia about 30 years later compared to those who didn't sustain a TBI in their 20s (overall dementia rate 0.55 per 1000 person years vs 0.34 per 1000 person-years); whereas individuals sustaining a TBI in their 30s were 37% more likely to develop dementia 30 years later compared with those without a TBI in their 30s (1.67 per 1000 person-years vs 1.22 per 1000 person-years; figure 2).

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

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Fann said more research is needed to understand who is at greatest risk of dementia and what other factors contribute to that risk.

The study also compared people with traumatic brain injuries to people with other types of traumatic injuries, like broken bones other than the skull or spine. "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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