Study highlights link between head injury and dementia

Lead author Professor Jesse Fann, from the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, said that "individuals with a history of traumatic brain injury, including those with less severe injuries, have an increased risk of developing dementia, even decades after the injury". The highest risk of dementia was seen in the first six months after TBI (hazard ratio, 4.06), and the risk also increased with an increasing number of TBI events (hazard ratios, 1.22 to 2.83 for one TBI to five or more TBIs).

"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".

The overall risk of dementia in individuals with a history of TBI was 24 percent higher than those without a history of TBI, after accounting for other risk factors for the disease.

But a single severe brain injury increased the risk of later dementia by 35 percent compared with a person who never had brain trauma.

They identified and cumulative effect, and found dementia risk rises with repeated episodes of brain injury.

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Each year, more than 50 million people worldwide suffer a traumatic brain injury, which occurs when a bump or blow to the head disrupts normal brain function.

Fann said his team's research is able to provide better evidence of a link because of the large sample size, though the study is limited because it draws on patients from a single country that's relatively ethnically homogenous. 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.

A traumatic brain injury can be caused by a fall, a traffic accident, a sports accident or a violent attack. "Our findings do not suggest that everyone who suffers a traumatic brain injury will go on to develop dementia in later life".

Fann said it's important to recognize that most people who sustain a single concussion do not develop dementia. Those affected should avoid certain behaviors, researchers suggest.

Fann said future research trying to narrow down why some people with brain injuries get dementia while other don't is important. They also note that they did not include TBIs treated by general practitioners, so the data might not have captured some less severe TBIs. "The attributable risk of traumatic brain injury to different exposures and how these change across time needs policy attention, given it is likely that prevention of these need be considered at societal, community, and local levels".


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