Sustaining a traumatic brain injury (TBT) in your 20s may increase the risk of developing dementia including Alzheimer's in your 50s by 60 percent, a review of almost three million patients has revealed.
In absolute terms, 5.3 per cent of participants with dementia had a history of TBI compared with 4.7 per cent of those without the condition. But the risk increased significantly for people with multiple brain injuries, and for people who were in their 20s at the time for their first brain injury.
The team stressed that the chances of developing Alzheimer's after a brain injury remained low.
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While not every person who sustains a severe TBI will develop dementia, the findings might such people to change their behaviours toward potential risk factors for dementia, such as limiting alcohol and tobacco use, engaging in regular exercise, preventing obesity and treating hypertension, diabetes and depression, the researchers said. It extends from a mild sports concussion - an elbow to the head in a basketball game, for example - that results in very brief or no unconsciousness and no structural harm to the brain, to the most severe brain injuries that can cause extended unconsciousness, coma or even prove fatal. According to United Nations data, around 50 million people around the world suffer from dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease.
In a separate project, Irish researchers are now looking to recruit 100 adults - without dementia or any form of significant cognitive difficulty - for a large scale study which hopes to identify early signs of dementia years before memory loss and confusion develop.
The idea that blows to the head suffered by boxers and footballers may increase the risk of dementia is a hotly debated issue.
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The risk of dementia increased with the number and severity of injuries, and even concussion was linked with a higher risk of dementia. About 95 percent of people who suffered a brain injury never developed dementia.
He also suggested people who suffer a TBI get an evaluation and seek treatment for persisting problems. This also applies to minor injuries such as a concussion.
In a commentary in the journal, Dr. Carol Brayne of University of Cambridge's medical school in England wrote that improvements in care mean more people are surviving brain injuries, making it crucial to understand more about their long-term effects.
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