New Study Links Traumatic Brain Injuries with Increased Dementia Risk

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New research in the journal Lancet Psychiatry offers more evidence on the link between traumatic brain injuries and dementia for older adults.

The risk of dementia increased 33 per cent higher for two or three TBIs, 61 per cent higher for four TBIs, and 183 per cent higher for five or more TBIs.

They identified and cumulative effect, and found dementia risk rises with repeated episodes of brain injury.

According to United Nations data, around 50 million people around the world suffer from dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease.

Despite the size of the studies, they won't settle scientific questions - or social debate - about brain injuries from sports, war, auto crashes or domestic violence.

Among the almost 2.8 million people observed, 4.7 per cent had at least one TBI diagnosis. From 1999 to 2013, 4.5 percent of the patients over age 50 years developed dementia, of those, 5.3 percent had sustained at least one TBI during the observation period, which began in 1977.

Published on Tuesday, the study led by Jesse Fan of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle capitalized on features of the national health system in Denmark that allow researchers to explore connections in health records. Causes include road traffic accidents, falls, sporting accidents and assaults. Every year, more than 50 million people worldwide experience a TBI, which occurs when an external force disrupts the brain's normal function. Among first TBI diagnoses, 85 percent had been characterized as mild and 15 percent had been characterized as severe or skull fracture.

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"The absolute risk of dementia when a person is in their 50s is still very low".

Dementia remained relatively rare: only 4.7 percent of study participants developed dementia at all, a total of 126,734 people.

For the study, the team examined 2.8 million people, and followed-up for 36 years.

According to Professor Fann, "Shedding light on risk factors for dementia is one of the most important tasks in health research".

The authors note some limitations, including that the study included people taken from one country with a fairly similar ethnic population, so the findings can not be generalised to all ethnic groups in other countries. Above all, those affected should try to avoid further traumatic brain injury. They also note that they did not include TBIs treated by general practitioners, so the data might not have captured some less severe TBIs. "The association of TBI with different causes and how these change across time needs policy attention, as it is likely that prevention needs to be considered at societal, community, and local levels".

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