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.
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.