A new study out of Sweden found found that traumatic brain injuries or concussions can increase a person’s risk of developing dementia, even 30 years after the injury.
This isn’t the first study to examine the connection between head injuries and dementia risk, but it is the first to find that this association exists for years later. For their study, researchers looked at three different groups of individuals who had suffered a TBI.
- The first cohort involved 164,334 people who had suffered a TBI, and their findings were compared to an equally sized control group.
- The second cohort involved 136,233 individuals who had been diagnosed with dementia, and their findings were compared to an equally sized control group.
- The third cohort examined 46,970 pairs of siblings in which one of the siblings had been previously diagnosed with a TBI.
The trove of data was collected from 1964 to 2012, which gave researchers nearly 50 years of data to pour over to come up with their findings.
After looking at the data, researchers were able to find a clear association between head trauma and the onset of dementia. According to researchers, the risk of developing dementia was the highest during the first year after the TBI. During the first year, researchers found that individuals with a TBI were 4 to 6 times as likely to receive a dementia diagnosis than those without a TBI.
Additional findings from the study include:
- Despite overall risk decreasing over time, individuals who had suffered a TBI still faced a higher risk of dementia than those without a previous head injury, even 30 years down the road.
- At a 15-year follow up, the risk of a dementia diagnosis increased 80 percent for people who had at least one TBI compared to those who didn’t have a TBI.
- More severe TBIs were associated with a greater risk of eventual dementia onset compared to minor or mild TBI.
- Findings using the sibling group provided researchers with clearer insights, because it allowed them to better understand dementia risk and genetics.
- Researchers stopped short of saying that TBIs cause dementia, just that the two appear to have an association.
Despite the link, researchers say that the increased risk from a TBI doesn’t mean that a person is doomed to develop dementia.
“Not everyone who smokes gets emphysema and lung cancer…not everyone with TBI gets dementia” said Dr. Steven Flanagan, chair of the department of rehabilitation medicine at the New York University Langone Medical Center.
Preventing Dementia Onset
So while TBIs aren’t always preventable, there are things you can do in the wake of a TBI to help reduce your likelihood of developing dementia in the future. For example, researchers say the best way to help stave off the onset of dementia is to seek a medical evaluation soon after suffering the injury. A neurologist will be able to diagnose the damage and set up a rehab plan to ensure your brain heals as it should and you don’t expose it to further damage.
Other research has shown that dementia risk can be lowered by preventing future trauma to the head, maintaining a healthy weight, and keeping your blood pressure low. So strive to maintain a healthy weight, partake in safe exercises, and protect your head from future blows, and you can help to reduce your likelihood of developing dementia in the future.
If you want to talk to a head specialist about a TBI you suffered recently or in the past, reach out to Dr. Chang’s office today.