Keep Memory Alive - Is It Alzheimer's or Dementia?
Brain Injury May Increase Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
People who have a history of traumatic brain injury (TBI) may be at risk for developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease earlier than those who didn’t have a TBI.
By Mia Garchitorena
Medically Reviewed by Samuel Mackenzie, MD, PhD
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April 23, 2019
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has long been thought of as a neurodegenerative condition that affects people later in life. But new research shows that individuals who have sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) may be at risk of developing this disease earlier.
Using the autopsy records of more than 2,100 individuals, researchers from the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute in Dallas found that people who suffered a brain injury with a loss of consciousness greater than five minutes were diagnosed with dementia two and a half years earlier than those who had not experienced TBI.
The research was published in March 2019 in the journalNeuropsychology.
"This study links traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer's disease more tightly together than past studies have, as it's the first to use autopsy criteria to diagnose AD," says Jeffrey Schaffert, the study’s lead author and a second-year postdoctoral candidate in the clinical psychology program at UT Southwestern.
Schaffert and fellow researchers gathered data from the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center and analyzed 2,153 people 50 and older who had received a clinical diagnosis of dementia and were confirmed to have had Alzheimer’s disease pathology during autopsy. They separated them into two groups: one group of 1,956 people with no reported history of TBI and another group of 197 people who'd had a TBI with loss of consciousness.
Researchers found that the average age when people with a history of TBI and loss of consciousness received a dementia diagnosis was between about two and three and a half years earlier than those without a history of TBI.
C. Munro Cullum, PhD, professor of psychiatry, neurology, and neurosurgery at UT Southwestern who oversaw the study, says that not every brain injury will lead to dementia or Alzheimer’s.
“People shouldn’t panic if they’ve had a head injury with a loss of consciousness and assume they’re going to get Alzheimer’s disease. It’s just another risk factor, and we can’t apply it in an individual case,” he says.
Schaffert and his colleagues plan on studying the risk factors associated with the development of different forms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease following a TBI. For now, he says that this study is only the first step in better understanding the link between Alzheimer’s and TBI.
“We know that on average, people with TBI may have an earlier onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s difficult to determine what factors lead somebody who has a TBI to have an earlier onset versus somebody else who doesn’t have a TBI and has an earlier onset,” he says.
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