Head injury boosts dementia risk, study reveals

Computer artwork of a brain in side view with the brain's neural network represented by lines and flashes

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. Even a single mild T.B.I. increased the risk by 17 percent.

The authors found that someone with one TBI had a risk of developing dementia after age 50 that was 22 per cent higher than someone with no diagnosed brain injury, this was 33 per cent higher with two TBIs or 200 per cent higher with five or more.

After adjusting for medical, neurological and psychiatric illnesses, they found that compared with people who had never had a T.B.I., those who had had any were at a 24 percent increased risk for dementia, and those who had had five or more had almost triple the risk. Five or more brain injuries, the risk is almost 3 times the risk compared to someone without a brain injury.

"Individuals with a history of traumatic brain injury (TBI). have an increased risk of developing dementia, even decades after the injury", said study leader Jesse Fann of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

Findings from a review of almost 2.8 million patient cases in Denmark were published April 10 in The Lancet Psychiatry.

According to the UN's World Health Organisation, about 50 million people worldwide suffer from dementia, including Alzheimer's Disease - the most common form with about two-thirds of cases. Leading causes include falls, motor vehicle accidents, and assaults.

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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But independent experts said other lifestyle factors were more important.

"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", said Jakob Christensen, Associate Professor at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark.

Prior studies of traumatic brain injury and dementia have struggled to establish a link because of low sample sizes or study intervals that were too short to observe dementia development.

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

Previous research on links between brain injury and dementia has produced conflicting results, said the study authors writing in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry.

The researchers identified a cumulative effect, with dementia risk rising with repeated episodes of brain injury.

Fann said future research trying to narrow down why some people with brain injuries get dementia while other don't is important. And they looked at other types of trauma, such as broken bones, and found that brain injuries were more closely tied to dementia.

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