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Dementia High Among Veterans 55+ with Traumatic Brain Injury


The risk of dementia among vets age 55 or older who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is more than twice as high as their peers who did not experience such an injury to the brain. This finding could have important implications, especially given the high percentage of traumatic brain injuries among US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan today.

Brain injury among veterans is a critical challenge

The new study involved an evaluation of the medical records of 281,540 US veterans who were 55 years or older who sought care through the Veterans Health Administration at least once from 1997 through 2007. None of the veterans had a diagnosis of dementia at the beginning of the study.

The research team, led by Kristine Yaffe, MD, professor of psychiatry, neurology and epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco, and director of the Memory Disorders Program at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, analyzed data regarding TBIs, dementia, and other medical conditions, including psychiatric disorders.

They found that the risk of dementia was 15.3 percent among veterans who had experienced a traumatic brain injury, compared with 6.8 percent among veterans who had not. This increased risk was significant regardless of the type of traumatic brain injury the veterans had suffered.

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Several other previous studies have explored the impact of traumatic brain injuries on veterans. One, published in Neurology, reported that soldiers who have experienced such brain trauma are at significantly high risk of developing epilepsy as long as ten years or longer after the brain injury occurred. Of 199 veterans studied who had had a brain injury 35 years ago, 44 percent had developed post-traumatic epilepsy.

Another study, just released in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, evaluated veterans with a history of TBI and found they were 1.55 times more likely to die by suicide than those without such a history. The study reported that the increased risk was not explained by the presence of psychiatric disorders.

War veterans are not the only people who suffer with a TBI. According to Yaffe, “about 1.7 million people experience a TBI each year in the United States, primarily due to falls and car crashes.” But for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, TBIs account for “22 percent of casualties overall and 59 percent of blast-related injuries.”

The results of this latest study showing a high risk of dementia among older vets with traumatic brain injury “raise concern about the potential long-term consequences of TBI in younger veterans,” noted Yaffe. They also “raise hope that early treatment and rehabilitation following TBI may help prevent long-term consequences such as dementia.”

Brenner LA et al. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation 2011 Jul-Aug; 26(4): 257-64
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Raymont V et al. Neurology 2010 Jul 20; 75(3): 224-29

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