Number, severity of brain injuries raises dementia risk

WEDNESDAY, April 11, 2018 (HealthDay News) - Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is associated with increased risk of dementia, according to a study published online April 10 in The Lancet Psychiatry.

They looked at the health records of 2.8 million people over 36 years and found that individuals who sustained a TBI in their 20s were 63 per cent more likely to develop dementia in the next three decades than someone who did not sustain one.

A single severe traumatic brain injury raised the chances of developing dementia by more than a third. Even compared to that group, the TBI group had higher risk for dementia. The risk of dementia increased with the number and severity of injuries, and even concussion was linked with a higher risk of dementia. Our analysis raises some very important issues, in particular that efforts to prevent traumatic brain injury, especially in younger people, may be inadequate considering the huge and growing burden of dementia and the prevalence of TBI worldwide.

"Severe TBI is particularly frequent in young people, and it is concerning that the risk of dementia is particular high in relatively young persons who suffer TBI", co-author Jakob Christensen, an associate professor of neurology at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, said in a statement.

Dementia affects 47 million people worldwide, a number expected to double in the next 20 years. TBI occurs when an external force such as a bump or blow to the head disrupts the normal function of the brain.

Among the almost 2.8 million people observed in the study, 4.7 percent had at least one TBI diagnosis. For their first T.B.I. diagnosis, 85 percent were this mild type.

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In absolute terms, 5.3 per cent of participants with dementia had a history of TBI compared with 4.7 per cent of those without the condition.

Between 1999 and 2013, 4.5 per cent of the study population aged 50 and older were diagnosed with dementia. "Our findings do not suggest that everyone who suffers a traumatic brain injury will go on to develop dementia in later life".

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.

Despite the size of the studies, they won't settle scientific questions - or social debate - about brain injuries from sports, war, auto crashes or domestic violence.

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

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on traumatic brain injury. This included "less severe" injuries such as concussion.

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