A team from the University of Washington has found that the risk of dementia is significantly higher for people with a history of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) than for people with no history of TBI.
However, even a mild TBI (concussion) increased the risk by 17%. - "Best evidence yet" - "Importantly, a person who has sustained a TBI should do what they can to prevent further TBIs as the risk of dementia increases with the number of TBIs", Fann told AFP.
"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", said study leader Dr. Jesse Fann.
Dementia affects 47 million people worldwide and the number of patients is expected to double in the next 20 years. According to the study authors, more than 50 million people every year experience a traumatic brain injury.
"TBI was associated with an increased risk of dementia both compared with people without a history of TBI and with people with non-TBI trauma", the authors write. And he clarified that the findings do not suggest that every person who sustains a severe TBI will develop dementia later in life. It was increased almost three-fold for people who suffered more than four TBIs.
"There are some cognitive rehabilitation strategies that may decrease the cognitive deficits associated with a brain injury", Fann said.
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Previous studies have been conflicting, because of small sample sizes and short follow-up periods. The risk of dementia was highest among people who had suffered multiple T.B.I.s.
Despite the size of the studies, they won't settle scientific questions - or social debate - about brain injuries from sports, war, vehicle crashes or domestic violence.
Over 36 years, 132,093 individuals (4.7%) had at least one TBI diagnosis, most (85%) were mild in severity. The mean age at first diagnosis of dementia was 80.7 years.
The findings also show that men with a history of TBI had a slightly higher risk of developing dementia than women.
The researchers note that the absolute risk remains low, but one must remain especially mindful nevertheless. He warns parents and children to be well-aware of risks of TBIs in contact sports. It extends from a mild sports concussion - an elbow to the head in a basketball game, for example - that results in very brief or no unconsciousness and no structural harm to the brain, to the most severe brain injuries that can cause extended unconsciousness, coma or even prove fatal. He added: "This study certainly reinforces the fact that sports in which head injury occurs are unsafe and may make us susceptible to dementia. Our findings suggest that improved traumatic brain injury prevention programmes may have an opportunity to reduce the burden of dementia worldwide".