Research indicates the toll traumatic brain injury can have on the onset of dementia later in life.
The latest discovery in Alzheimer’s disease research is that middle-aged adults who suffer traumatic brain injury (TBI) may have a higher risk of developing dementia in later years. Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland have been investigating this connection and found that a majority of brain injury victims were also at greater risk of developing dementia later in life.
These findings could have a major impact on people in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control1 indicates that there are approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S. who suffer from traumatic brain injuries each year, 50,000 people die from it, and 85,000 people suffer long term disabilities. An estimated 5.3 million Americans are living with a disability as the result of a TBI.
According to the Brain Injury Association of Canada2 1.5 million Canadians are living with brain injuries and more than 100,000 brain injuries are sustained each year.
In the research conducted at the University of Helsinki, scientists studied a nationwide register in Finland and identified nearly 20,000 people between the ages of 18 and 65 who had a history of moderate to severe TBI and nearly 21,000 people in the same age bracket with a history of mild brain injury. Researchers3 reported, “After adjusting for confounding factors, we found that persons with moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injury had a 90% increased probability of developing dementia," as opposed to those who had suffered a mild case. Given these findings, it is important to know the sometimes subtle signs and symptoms of TBI to ensure that a friend or family member is treated promptly.
Many do not know they have suffered a TBI.
Traumatic brain injury is defined as any blow to the head that causes damage to the brain, including concussions. TraumaticBrainInjury.com4 says “One of the consequences of brain injury is that the person often does not realize that a brain injury has occurred.”
The other challenge of identifying traumatic brain injury is that symptoms don’t always occur right away. Sometimes there are days or weeks between the time of injury and the onset of symptoms. That can delay important treatment for an injury that has the power to adversely impact every function in the body, including one’s personality.
There are two types of brain injury: mild and severe.
Mild TBI is the most common type of brain injury and it is most often overlooked at the moment that the injury occurs. It results from the head moving so forcefully that it causes a brief change in mental function, such as confusion or loss of consciousness for less than 30 minutes.
The symptoms of mild TBI include the following:
- Visual disturbances
- Memory loss
- Poor attention/concentration
- Sleep disturbances
- Dizziness/loss of balance
- Irritability-emotional disturbances
- Feelings of depression
Fifteen percent of people with mild TBI suffer from the symptoms for a year or more.
A severe brain injury occurs when the person loses consciousness for more than 30 minutes and has memory loss for more than 24 hours after the injury. They may not have full mobility in their arms or legs or may lose language skills. The symptoms include a wide range of cognitive, physical, social-emotional and sensory deficits including:
- Attention and concentration deficits.
- Trouble speaking or slurred speech.
- Partial or total loss of vision or hearing.
- Loss of sense of smell or taste.
- Physical paralysis.
- Chronic pain.
- Sleep disorders.
- The effects of severe TBI can be lifelong and affect the person’s ability to work, socialize and participate in family life.
Protect your brain.
Given the life-altering consequences of brain injury and the potential connection with developing dementia in later years, it is important to protect your head and brain at all times:
- Wear a helmet while driving a motorcycle or snowmobile.
- Wear a helmet while skateboarding, horseback riding, snowboarding, or other activities that could result in a blow to the head.
- Always wear your seatbelt.
- Secure your child in an approved child safety seat and learn how to install it properly.
- Don’t drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Following these safety tips will help you keep your brain safe and avoid traumatic brain injury that could lead to the onset of dementia later in life.