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Could Brain Injury Cause Dementia Among Older Adults?

Brain injury and dementia can each make it much harder to lead a full life. Now researchers studying elderly veterans and hospital patients have found that one disorder may lead to a higher incidence of the other. But could it actually be a cause?

This summer, researchers working with Veterans found that the victims of traumatic brain injury were 60% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia sooner than counterparts without a history of brain injury. On average, their lives were affected two years sooner.

This correlation was similar to the one seen in veterans who had experience depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or cerebrovascular disease. Deborah Barnes, Associate Professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, explained this correlation :

“Each ‘hit’ to the brain reduces the brain’s ability to bounce back after being damaged. Another theory is that a brain injury leads to a build-up of amyloid or tau, the proteins that are implicated in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.”

Now another study has shown that the later in life the brain injury occurs, the stronger the correlation with subsequent dementia. By age 65, a person who falls and gets a traumatic brain injury is 26% more likely to get dementia than if he or she broke an arm or leg. On a second brain injury, that risk doubles.

It may be that younger brains are just more resilient, but the study shows that older brains may be especially vulnerable to brain injuries even with mild brain injuries. Neither of these studies can say for sure that the brain injury caused dementia in older patients – a large number of brain injury patients do not see an acceleration in dementia symptoms. Nor do they explain why brain injuries later in life have a greater effect than in younger victims. But what is clear is that, among older patients, doctors and caregivers need to be especially vigilant against the signs of brain injury.

David Christensen is a brain injury expert attorney at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He and his team help the victims of traumatic brain injuries get the funds they need to focus on their recovery. If you or someone you know have suffered a traumatic brain injury, contact Christensen Law for a free consultation.