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Study Links Traumatic Brain Injuries to Increased Risk of Dementia

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Hopeanne Wohlers3 years ago

A new study has found a link between older military veterans with a history of head injury and increased risk for dementia.

About the Dementia Study

The report compared older military veterans with traumatic head injuries (TBI), such as concussions, skull fractures, and internal skull bleeding, to veterans without injuries.

The lead author from the University of California, San Francisco and the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Deborah E. Barnes, stated, “There have been a fair number of previous studies that have looked at the relationship between TBI and risk of dementia, and some have found an association while others haven't.”

Barnes and other colleagues took into account other conditions that could affect the study, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, in an attempt to refine the study results. Using those results, Barnes stated, “we found that, even after accounting for these other factors, older veterans with a history of TBI were 60 percent more likely to develop dementia”, according to an email sent to Reuters.

According to previous research results, it has been found that dementia affects 5% of 70-year-olds and 37% of 90-year-olds. This latest study used over 188,000 US veterans’ medical records who were 55 years old and greater with a clean medical evaluation between 2000 and 2003, stating the patients did not have dementia.

1,229 of the veterans had been diagnosed with TBI. Those veterans visited the doctor at least one other time between 2003 and 2012, in which 196 of those veterans with a history of TBI developed dementia (16%) compared to the 18,255 of the veterans who do not have a history of TBI (10%). The published results also stated that veterans with TBI also developed dementia an average of 2 years sooner than veterans without TBI.

Explaining the TBI and Dementia Link

Barnes states that having a TBI only increases the risk of dementia because, “these numbers reflect population averages, so there will be many individual veterans without TBI who develop dementia and many with TBI who don't.”

Dr. Rodolfo Savica of the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City, agrees that “head trauma is pretty controversial still.” Dr. Savica also added, “We know it can increase risk of dementia in the long run, but not everybody who is exposed to this trauma develops problems.”

However, the study does seem to show that veterans with head injuries are more likely than uninjured veterans to have other health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and PTSD. Savica says that since veterans with TBI are more likely to develeop these other important health issues, they are a group that is more prone and vulnerable to disease in general.

 “We should follow up more carefully with these people,” according to Savica, “Whenever you have additional (health issues), if you are depressed or have PTSD, you have to tell your doctor.”


Barnes agrees saying that head injuries are very common and affect as many as 20% of veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan. 


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