Head injuries linked to increased risk of developing dementia, study suggests

Published 3 February 2016

A study of head injury patients reveals protein clumps in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, published today (Wednesday 3 February ), by Imperial College London in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology shows these clumps called amyloid plaques are still present over a decade after the injury.

The researchers studied nine patients with moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries. Many had sustained these in road traffic accidents between 11 months to 17 years prior to the study. Although they had no physical disabilities from the injury, many still experienced memory and concentration problems. Patients, aged between 38-55, underwent a brain scan that used a technique that allows scientists to view amyloid plaques.

Dr Clare Walton, Research Manager at Alzheimer’s Society, said: 

'We know that a serious head injury is a risk factor for developing dementia. Using a new brain scanning technique, this study has shown that the protein beta-amyloid, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, can accumulate in the brain after a serious head injury. However, it is important to note that the protein clumps seen after brain injury were much fewer and located in different regions than the clumps seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. This means it is not a simple case of head injury triggering the same brain changes that occur as dementia develops.

'The effects of a severe head injury can remain hidden for years. More research is needed to understand why they put you at an increased risk of developing dementia and whether there are ways to reduce that risk once a head injury has occurred.'

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