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Brain Injury May Increase the Risk of Early Alzheimer's

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerMay 7, 2018

University of Texas Southwestern’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute has found that suffering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease earlier in life.

Learn more about the correlation between early Alzheimer’s and TBI, and why researchers need more evidence before establishing a causal relationship between the two.

Brain Injury Likely Increases the Risk of Alzheimer’s and Impacts Long-Term Health

A study from UT Southwestern’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute was the first study to use autopsy-confirmed cases of Alzheimer’s to examine the long-term effects of TBIs. Previous studies have speculated about a relationship between the two, but none have used definitive diagnostic methods and some of the cases studies may not have actually had Alzheimer’s.

The study analyzed more than 2,100 cases and found that people who had TBI and a loss of consciousness of more than 5 minutes were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 2.5 years earlier than those who had not experienced a TBI.

Study authors caution that while their findings do suggest a link between Alzheimer’s and TBI, they still do not know the exact relationship between the two and they can not predict who is likely to develop dementia on a case by case basis.

Neuropsychologist Dr. Munro Cullum, overseer of the study and leader of the nation’s effort to track concussions in youth sports cautions, “We need to be aware that brain injury is a risk factor, but parents shouldn’t keep their kids out of sports because they fear a concussion will lead to dementia.”

Researchers still need to learn what it is about TBI that contributes to Alzheimer’s and what other factors and triggers could be involved. However, scientists believe getting the answers to these questions may take decades because there is not a lot of records about TBI. While some organizations, like the NCAA, are starting to collect detailed concussion histories it will still be a while before researchers can see the impact those concussions have on long-term brain health.

Dr. Collum explains, ”…We have to wait 40 to 50 years until those college athletes are in their 60s and 70s to study them and know the outcome. That’s going to be a long wait. We need researchers now to start collecting this information as part of their routine studies. Until we have more detail, all we can look at are correlations.”

Have you seen a correlation between Alzheimer’s and brain injury in your family? We’d like to hear more about your experiences in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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