One brain injury could induce dementia years later

brain injury dementia riskCC: Jesse Orrico at Unsplash

As a condition that involves significant memory loss, dementia affects millions of adults throughout the United States. Although age is a major risk factor, it isn’t the only one. Not everyone who grows older goes on to develop dementia, so scientists are continuously searching for a specific cause.

One piece of research from Imperial College suggests that a single brain injury earlier in life could lead to dementia. So, does this mean that those who love contact sports need to worry? Let’s find out.

What does the study tell us?

The study looked at 29 people in total. While 18 had encountered a brain injury, 11 hadn’t. Each person with the brain injury had incurred it at least 18 years before the study took place.

Using specialist scans, the researchers look for tau tangles in the patients’ brains. Also known as neurofibrillary tangles, tau tangles are gatherings of protein that have long been associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. They’re one of the primary markers in those suffering from the condition, which makes their appearance significant.

The research team found that many of those who had a previous head injury also had tau tangles. Interestingly, they weren’t displaying signs of memory loss at the time of the scan. However, the team believes that tau tangles gradually build over time and eventually lead to memory loss.

What type of brain injuries cause tau tangles?

Many of those who were studied had experienced brain injuries following a car accident. However, scientists have long been aware that repeated injuries as a result of sports increase your risk of dementia. Such sports can include football, boxing, and rugby.

By now, you may be thinking that this means the study doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. However, by detecting tau tangles in living patients rather than at post-mortem, scientists are making a clear link between head injuries and a known dementia marker.

Most significantly, each person with tau tangles had incurred a single injury. As a result, it’s possible to conclude that it isn’t just sportspeople who are at risk.

How can medical professionals use this information?

Although medical professionals can’t turn back time and unravel the tangles, they can use PET scans to see how much tau is present. With larger studies, medics and scientists will also be able to identify which areas of the brain suffer most when tau gathers there.

As an exciting piece of research, this study is furthering the world’s knowledge of how brain injuries influence the way we age. If you’ve encountered a brain injury in the past, do remember that the study was small and you can still do a lot now to influence your aging outcomes.


About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.