Over the past 30 years, research has linked moderate and severe traumatic brain injury to a greater risk of developing a neurocognitive disorder such as Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia years after the original head injury.
Brain Injury & Risk For Developing Alzheimer’s
A history of traumatic brain injury creates a greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s:
- 3 times greater risk if moderate
- 5 times greater risk if severe
There is no evidence a single mild brain injury increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, however, evidence does suggest that repeated mild traumatic brain injuries, such as those that can occur in sports like American football, boxing, hockey and soccer, may be linked to a greater risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a form of dementia.
Repeated Brain Injury & Increased Risk of Dementia
There is evidence that the repetition of trauma to the brain could be a key factor in developing a neurocognitive disorder. A study published in the March 23, 2016, online edition of the Journal of Neurology found that a history of traumatic brain injury may accelerate the age of onset of cognitive impairment by two or more years. Another study conducted by researchers at Umea University in Sweden confirmed traumatic brain injury as a risk factor for dementia and revealed that the risk of a dementia diagnosis was highest during the first year after the injury. During this time, people who had a traumatic brain injury were four to six times as likely to get a dementia diagnosis as those without a traumatic brain injury.
Orchard at Athens understands dementia symptoms come in many unique packages. Our team has years of experience working directly with people living with dementia in the Athens area who suffered from various conditions, including brain injury. Our experiences and observations have allowed us to use new approaches in care that start with building a relationship with the person who is going to be offered care services.
Brain Injury & Risk of CTE
Previous research has shown that boxers have an increased risk of CTE, which was originally called dementia, or “punch-drunk syndrome.”
The risk of CTE in boxers seems most closely tied to the number of rounds boxed, not to the number of times a boxer was knocked out, suggesting that even repeated mild traumatic brain injuries that don’t cause unconsciousness may increase dementia risk.
Researchers don’t yet know whether CTE is most likely to occur following a small number of severe traumatic brain injuries, a large number of mild or very mild traumatic brain injuries, or some other pattern of head trauma.
The symptoms of CTE may include:
- Memory loss
- Impaired judgment
- Impulse control problems
- Suicide Ideation
- Parkinsonism (movement symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease),
- These symptoms may begin years or even decades after the last traumatic brain injury
Current research on how traumatic brain injury changes brain chemistry indicates a relationship between traumatic brain injury and the protein abnormalities linked to Alzheimer’s. Within hours after injury, severe traumatic brain injury has been shown to increase levels of beta-amyloid, one Alzheimer’s protein. And CTE, the dementia linked to repeated mild traumatic brain injury, appears to be most strongly characterized by deposits of tau protein.
According to the Boston University CTE Center, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease. Every person diagnosed with CTE has one thing in common: a history of repetitive hits to the head. CTE is most often found in contact sport athletes and military veterans, likely because these are some of the only roles in modern life that involve purposeful, repetitive hits to the head.
Differentiating Injury Severity
The severity of symptoms of traumatic brain injury depends on whether the injury is mild, moderate or severe. Mild traumatic brain injury, also known as a concussion, either doesn’t cause unconsciousness or unconsciousness lasts for 30 minutes or less.
Mild traumatic brain injury symptoms may include:
- Inability to remember the cause of the injury or events that occurred immediately before or up to 24 hours after it happened
- Confusion and disorientation
- Difficulty remembering new information
- Blurry vision
- Nausea and vomiting
- Ringing in the ears
- Trouble speaking coherently
- Changes in emotions or sleep patterns.
These symptoms often appear at the time of the injury or soon after, but sometimes may not develop for days or weeks. Mild traumatic brain injury symptoms are usually temporary and clear up within hours, days or weeks; however, on occasion, they can last months or longer.
Moderate traumatic brain injury causes unconsciousness lasting more than 30 minutes but less than 24 hours, and severe traumatic brain injury causes unconsciousness for more than 24 hours. Symptoms of moderate and severe traumatic brain injury are similar to those of mild traumatic brain injury, but more serious and longer-lasting.
If you or someone you know has a history of traumatic brain injury, it is best to see a doctor to get a cognitive exam.
If you have more questions regarding this topic, contact us. Orchard serves residents who are living with traumatic brain injury in the Athens area and provides support for families wanting to learn more about dementia.