Serious head injuries nearly double your risk of dementia

New research has determined that sustaining a head injury can almost double the risk of developing dementia.

The 40,000 participants of the study all suffered a head injury between the years 1986 and 2014. Half of the vast group suffered moderate-to-severe head injuries – which result in lesions in the brain – requiring the person to stay in hospital for three or more days. The second half were victims of milder head injuries – with no lesions observed – allowing them to return home within a day of the incident.

When analysing the longer-term chronic effects of the two groups, the risk of developing non-Alzheimer’s dementia was revealed at a remarkable 90% higher for moderate-to-severe head injuries than the milder equivalents. Rahul Raj, of the University of Helsinki, confirmed the statistic and revealed that factors such as education and socioeconomic status were also taken into account.

In total, 696 of the 19,936 participants who suffered sever head injuries developed dementia further down the line, whilst only 326 of the 20,703 with milder injuries did.

The study found that the most advanced risk of developing dementia was in those that suffered the higher grade of head injury between the ages of 41 and 50.

Studies on similar topics have found relatable evidence that blows to the head can raise an individual’s likelihood of dementia. Sports such as Rugby and American Football have long been under the watchful eye of medical experts, where a worrying trend of highly physical sports has produced cases of developing dementia later on in life.

Dr Alan Faden from the University of Maryland School of Medicine said “this large study adds to prior published work indicating that a history of traumatic brain injury significantly increases the risk of dementia”.

Last year, Faden himself discovered that head trauma causes small mysterious particles to drift across the brain. These particles, around a micrometre in diameter, have previously been discovered in the spinal fluid of those that have experienced a head trauma. Their function has remained unknown for some time, but recent breakthroughs have started to shed a little light on the mystery.

Dr Faden has discovered that activated immune cells known as microglia release the mysterious particles in response to a brain injury. They subsequently spread inflammation well beyond the site of trauma itself. Amazingly, it has even been found that they can cause brain inflammation when injected into animals that have not experienced a brain injury.

Stephen Thom, a colleague and co-writer of Dr Faden’s, has begun to produce an agent that has the potential to work against the particles.

Known as PEG-TB, it neutralises the inflammatory capacity of the particles by forcing them to disintegrate. Experiments in pigs have shown that PEG-TB reduces the severity of inflammation from sustaining brain injuries. Faden explains that “in principle, the concept of neutralising them could be effective”.

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