Tag Archives: men and dementia

TBI — A New Term for the Dementia Handbook

Cause and effect are words that haunt us when caring for someone with dementia. Many times I ask myself how my health conscious mom ended up with such an awful disease. Is it genetic or did she suffer an early trauma that we don’t know about? Luckily I’m not the only person asking that question.

Between the Pond and the Woods

New research has been conducted to analyze huge volumes of medical records to see if there’s a connection between Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and later development of dementia. The research was carried out by Deborah E. Barnes, PhD, MPH, Allison Kaup, PhD, Katharine A. Kirby, MA, Amy L. Byers, PhD, MPH, Ramon Diaz-Arrastia, MD, PhD and Kristine Yaffe, MD of the University of California at San Francisco. The article describing their study appears in Neurology, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Because they studied patient records and not brain chemistry, their work is easier to understand than many other scientific papers.

Basically, this research team reviewed medical records for 188,764 U.S. veterans who were 55 years of age or older. All patients in the study had at least one inpatient or outpatient visit during the period under review and none had a dementia diagnosis at their first visit.

By examining nearly a decade’s worth of patient records, the researchers tallied the number of veterans who had a diagnosis of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) to see if TBI was associated with an increased incidence of dementia.

The research findings provide lots of food for thought. After controlling for the impact of other health factors, TBI in older veterans was associated with a 60% increase in the risk of developing dementia over 9 years.  According to the study’s authors, “TBI in older veterans may predispose toward development of symptomatic dementia”.  The study also raises a host of questions about how to treat TBI in younger veterans and other members of our society who have suffered brain injuries.

For lots of us, these finding won’t resolve the “cause/effect” question. But they give us plenty to think about while living in a society where so many young athletes suffer sports concussions, adults want to ride motorcycles without a helmet, and thousands of young people go off to fight in wars. I’m not suggesting that we cease all of these activities, just that we consider the cost that may be paid by those now suffering preventable pain.

Nebraska and Dementia

When my life was less complex, I saw more Oscar-buzzed films. This year I watched one Best Film nominee (Gravity) and wondered what was so great about it — apart from a budget that could feed us all for a year. But before throwing in the towel on the Academy Awards I went to see a film about a father losing his memory — and got my nine bucks worth of food for thought.

Between the Pond and the Woods

Black and white with a hint of sun

Other people have told me they didn’t want to see Nebraska because Bruce Dern — who plays the confused father — has portrayed so many jerks on screen. To them, he actually seems as repulsive as his characters. But I went to see the movie because it deals with the slow unraveling of someone who seems to be in the early stages of dementia. He gets lost when he leaves home and he’s deluded about many things — including his chances of collecting the “jackpot” he thinks he’s won. When others reach out to him, he refuses their help and keeps getting into the same trouble over and over. Sound familiar?

Despite this character’s shortcomings — he is mean, drinks like crazy, seems to hate everyone around him — this movie was so much better than 90% of all films because it’s so real. It’s kind of reassuring to watch a movie that is so honest about family relationships and the trials of connecting with someone who seems to live in a different reality.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the story rewards viewers with a deep sense of redemption. The acting is superb and the script is excellent. June Squibb, who plays the beleaguered wife, is hilarious all the way through the film. Every single character demonstrates how difficult it is to salvage love from strained family relationships. They also show us why it’s worth it to strive for that, even when it seems impossible.

I have never been to Nebraska, but I’ve lived in places that seemed just as black and white and bleak — yet full of soulful people. My two hours in the theater reminded me that those places are the ones where the salt of the earth is still being harvested, daily.