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Single brain injury could increase risk of Alzheimer's, dementia

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
TBI and Alzheimer's risk

Survivors of one episode of traumatic brain injury (TBI) may be at risk for dementia, finds new research. According to researchers at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, a single brain injury can start a cascade of events that causes "plaques and tangles" in the brain to appear, even early in life and seen years later.

Single brain trauma leads to tau tangles, amyloid plaque

Study author Douglas Smith, MD, professor of Neurosurgery and director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at Penn's Perelman School of Medicine explains:

"A single traumatic brain injury is very serious, both initially, and as we're now learning, even later in life. Plaques and tangles are appearing abnormally early in life, apparently initiated or accelerated by a single TBI.”

The finding is significant given statistics that 1.7 million Americans experience traumatic brain injury each year, according to the CDC. Seventy five percent of brain injuries are mild. The CDC also notes the number of brain injuries that go untreated is unknown. Sports, child injuries and falls in older adults all contribute to the number of brain injuries that occur annually.

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In the study that appears in the journal “Brain Pathology”, researchers found beta-amyloid plaque associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in single brain injury survivors, years after brain trauma occurred.

For their study, the scientists examined brain tissue of patients who survived TBI from one to 47 years, comparing tissue to uninjured individuals of the same age.

The researchers found tangles of tau protein and amyloid plaque in the brains of TBI survivors that are typical of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and also seen with repetitive brain injuries.

The finding suggests a single episode of trauma to the brain lingers for years. One episode of traumatic brain injury could be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia that would respond to emerging anti-amyloid, anti-tau therapies. The changes seen in the study started immediately and persisted for years.

Source: Penn Medicine

Image is PET scan of patient with Alzheimer's disease
Credit: Wikimedia Commons