Can Traumatic Brain Injury Be the Reason for Dementia?

A sudden and unexpected jolt or a violent blow to the head can lead to brain damage. This can happen in case of falls, gunshot wounds physical fights, road accidents or sports injuries, making brain injury one of the leading causes of disability and death all across the globe.

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A traumatic brain injury (TBI) has been defined by the CDC as “a disruption in the normal function of the brain that can be caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or penetrating head injury.” People over the age bracket of 75 are at the highest risk of brain injury related complications.

However, doctors usually categorize brain injury as moderate, mild or severe, according to the severity of the damage. It all depends on whether a person became unconscious after the blow or not, how long were they unconscious for, and if there were any other symptoms.

It’s heartening to know that most brain injuries are classified as mild and are not life-threatening. But even these mild traumatic brain injuries can lead to a lifetime of serious effects resulting in brain damage and thus dementia. There are several ways to lower your risk of dementia.

Dementia and brain injury – what’s the connection?

Some of the symptoms of a traumatic brain injury are also seen in the patients with dementia. That’s why it is essential to have the doctor assess the patient for dementia-related developments as well in case of an injury. These symptoms can include changes in speech and vision, memory loss, prolonged confusion as well as personality changes. Now, these symptoms may end up clearing all together, or last for a long time or never go away, foreboding dementia-related issues.

The last 30 years of research have shown strong links between moderate to severe brain trauma to the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. These developments can happen many years after the head injury as well.

Research shows that older adults who have suffered mild brain trauma at some point in their lives are 2.3 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. However, those who have a history of severe brain injury are at an even higher risk of 4.5 times. Some other studies have also found a connection between moderate to severe brain injury and the elevated risk of developing dementia.

These brain injuries could also be sports-related as shown by emerging evidence. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a brain condition that affects professional sports players, athletes and combat veterans who have lived through repeated concussions without loss of consciousness. Some studies also suggest that the link between traumatic brain injury and dementia may be more probable due to a variation in the gene for apolipoprotein E (APOE) or APOE-e4.

So, is it true that a hit to the head pretty much guarantees dementia?

No. There is no evidence that everyone who has experienced a head injury will develop dementia. A single, mild brain injury does not increase the risk of dementia in any way. However, if you are worried about your own or a loved one’s cognitive abilities, simple app reviews such as Braintest can help. This cognitive screening application is an innovative new method of keeping track of your brain health. A quick Braintest review can put your mind to ease.

Symptoms of dementia – what to look out for?

Individual experiences may differ or include unique combinations of these symptoms. It all depends on the part of the brain that was damaged, the intensity of the blow, and the damage caused. Some symptoms appear faster while others may show up years later. Often, it is possible to gauge the extent of damage down within a month of the injury. These are the symptoms to look out for after a traumatic brain injury:

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  • Problems with clear, rational thoughts
  • Memory loss
  • Poor concentration
  • Slowed thought processes
  • Cantankerousness, easily irritated
  • Impetuous behavior
  • Mood swings
  • Unsuitable behavior in social situations
  • Neglected grooming
  • Suddenly dressing eccentrically
  • Edginess or agitation
  • Sleeplessness
  • Anger, combativeness, or aggression
  • Headaches
  • Exhaustion
  • Vague physical symptoms
  • Indifference
  • Lethargy

Some may also develop seizures after being injured in the head. These seizures aren’t a precursor or part of dementia and may make it even more complicated to diagnose and treat dementia properly.

Exams and tests for dementia after a head injury

A history of traumatic brain injuries doesn’t make it any easier to diagnose dementia on time. Strategies for treating dementia, however, remain the same in people with or without a history of traumatic brain damage.

Your healthcare provider will require complete details about the onset of symptoms and the injuries or incidents if any, which prompted these symptoms. This account should include:

  • Information on the nature of accident/injury, i.e., how it happened, etc.
  • The type and extent of medical attention received immediately after the injury. If your medical records are available, bring them
  • The state of the injured person since the occurrence, i.e., if they are behaving any different since then
  • Prescription or OTC medicines that have been taken since the injury
  • A detailed description of the severity of the symptoms experienced
  • Moreover, remember to let your healthcare provider know if the occurrence and injury have led to a legal action of any sort.

They will also inquire about other medical problems experienced, medication and therapies taken to cure these, work history, lifestyle choices, habits as well as the medical history of the family to rule out other complication. They may also ask close family members for this information, in case the injured is unable to do it himself or herself.

Neurological and physical exams can identify neurological and cognitive issues as well as problems with mental or social function. If the injured person has an unusual appearance, behavior or mood, it will also be put on record.

Carrying out neuropsychological testing of people with head trauma is a common phenomenon. In fact, many doctors consider it one of the most reliable ways to investigate any cognitive impairments resulting from a traumatic brain injury. It is a sensitive test carried out only by trained specialists practicing in the area of clinical psychology.

The neuropsychologist uses clinical rating scales to understand and document even the subtlest of cognitive problems. The results of this test also act as an important baseline against which all future developments are measured.

The Last Word: Outlook for Dementia Patients

After a traumatic head injury, keep on the lookout for a variety of symptoms that seem to be affecting thinking, memory, personality, mood, behavior, concentration, as well as communication with others.

The future of persons with dementia developed after a head injury is difficult to predict. Some manage to recover fully from the Everest of head injuries while others may be disabled for life despite their injuries being much milder. It is essential to provide care and understanding to patients who have dementia.

Author Bio:

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Alma Causey is a Freelance writer by day and sports fan by night. She writes about tech education and health related issues. Live simply, give generously, watch football and a technology lover.

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Camille Leavold
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In answer to your hypothesis it certainly seems to have the potential to be a contributory factor and as you have mentioned this may be of greatest concern among the professional sporting community where blows to the head are frequent and to some extent accepted as par for the course. It is definitely something to be especially vigilant about when providing care for vulnerable or elderly people who may also be more prone to this kind of injury.