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New research finds link between concussion and dementia

12 April 2018

For example, one traumatic brain injury is associated with about a 22 percent increased risk of dementia.

A link between brain injury and dementia has been confirmed by a study of nearly three million people.

Suffering a traumatic brain injury from a blow to the head boosted dementia risk by 24 percent in a Danish study group of almost three million people, researchers said Wednesday.

"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", says Jesse Fann, Professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine, in Seattle, USA, who led the study. People with a history of TBI had a higher fully-adjusted risk of all-cause dementia (hazard ratio, 1.24) compared to those without a history of TBI; the risk of Alzheimer's disease was also increased (hazard ratio, 1.16).

The study also found that the younger a person was when they sustained the TBI, the higher their subsequent risk of developing dementia.

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The data only includes injuries where patients sought hospital or emergency room treatment for a head injury, not injuries where people either did not seek care or went to a doctor's office.

A TBI is classified as a blow to the head which disrupts the normal functioning of the brain.

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.

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.

"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.

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Between 1999 and 2013, 4.5 per cent of the study population aged 50 and older were diagnosed with dementia.

However, the study results could lead people with TBI histories to change certain behaviors like alcohol and tobacco use, regular exercise and treating hypertension, diabetes and depression to limit other potential risk factors for dementia.

Importantly, the younger the individual sustaining a TBI the higher the risk of subsequent dementia, when taking time since TBI into account. More than 50 million people experience a TBI each year and Professor Fann said tackling this could help lower the overall risk of dementia which already affects 47 million people worldwide, but is expected to double in the next 20 years as life expectancies increase.

Among men and women with TBI histories, men had slightly higher rate of developing dementia (30 percent vs. 19 percent). Our analysis raises some very important issues, in particular that efforts to prevent TBI, especially in younger people, may be inadequate considering the huge and growing burden of dementia and the prevalence of TBI worldwide.

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New research finds link between concussion and dementia