People with Alzheimer's disease are at increased risk of sustaining traumatic brain injury

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People with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia typically experience cognitive impairment, putting them at high risk of sustaining injuries from falling. Because elderly individuals are already vulnerable to fall-related traumatic brain injury (TBI), falling is a significant health concern among older people with dementia. Previous research indicates that people with dementia have higher mortality rates at one month and one year after sustaining TBI compared to people without the disease. However, little research has investigated the relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and head injury among older populations.

Recently, a research team in Finland examined the incidence of TBI among people with Alzheimer’s disease. They collected records from the Medical Use and Alzheimer’s Disease (MEDALZ) database, which includes all people who received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis in Finland between 2005 and 2011. The database identified 67,172 individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, and the researchers compared this group to a set of healthy, age-matched peers who did not have the disease. They found that people with Alzheimer’s disease were 1.34 times more likely to experience head injuries than people without the disease, and they were at 1.49 times higher risk of sustaining TBI as a result of their injuries.

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can affect a person’s balance and vision, leaving them vulnerable to fall-related injuries. Additionally, psychotropic drugs typically used to treat dementive disorders are known to increase the risk of falling. As a result, elderly individuals with dementia – who are already at risk of sustaining TBI because of their older age – are at particularly high risk of death or disability as a result of head injuries after a fall. There is a need for in-hospital rehabilitations and interventions designed specifically to treat Alzheimer’s patients with TBI, whose health care needs tend to be complex.

Ilmaniem S, Taipale H, Tanskanen A, et al. Incidence of head injury and traumatic brain injury among people with Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. (February 2019).

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