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Do Mild Brain Injuries Increase the Risk of Dementia?

Medical researchers estimate that more than 27 million people around the world sustain a traumatic brain injury each year. And while concussions occur more frequently than most people realize, there is new evidence that suggests even mild head trauma can cause long-term damage and increase the risk of neurological disease.

According to a study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, mild head injuries are associated with a long-term increase in the risk of dementia. The study relied on a large data pool that tracked the health outcomes of Americans over the last 25 years. The authors of the study observed that people with more head injuries were at greater risk of developing dementia

The lead author of the paper, Andrea Schneider, a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania hopes the new research will add to the body of work that is bringing awareness about the implications of head injuries and the importance of preventing them. “That’s really one of the most important take-home messages from this study, because head injuries are something that are preventable to some degree. You can do practical things like wearing bike helmets or wearing your seatbelt,” said Schneider.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed data from over 14,000 participants in the Atherosclerosis in Communities Study, which has followed people between the ages of 45 and 65 in Minnesota, Maryland, North Carolina, and Mississippi since 1987. The goal of the study was to track the environmental and genetic conditions that could contribute to heart disease, however, the researchers also collected medical records and requested participants self-report any head injuries they sustain.

The research team from the University of Pennsylvania analyzed the data on traumatic brain injuries and discovered that people who sustained one head injury were 25% more likely to develop dementia than those without head injuries. Participants with two or more head injuries had double the risk.

Although genetics, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices can impact whether a person develops dementia, Schneider asserts that head injury is also a significant factor. According to her, “about 9.5% of all cases of dementia in the study were attributable to head injury.”

Deborah Barnes, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, said “This study adds to the growing evidence that head injuries may have negative effects on the brain long after the injury has appeared to heal.”

The University of Pennsylvania study also found that the risk of developing dementia following one or more head injuries is about 50%  greater for women than for men and was less than 30%  greater for white people than for Black respondents. Jesse Fann, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington said, “The association between sex and race with dementia risk after TBI has not been consistent across all studies, so more research is needed to examine this association.”

Researchers hope that understanding which groups are most vulnerable to the elevated risk of dementia after head injuries can help scientists mitigate their effects. According to Schneider, “First, we need to understand these short-term and long-term associations with head injury before we can really think about devising treatment strategies and interventions.”

If you or a loved one have suffered a traumatic brain injury due to another party’s negligence, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Scarlett Law Group today at (415) 688-2176 to request your free case consultation so we can help you recover the compensation you deserve.

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