Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 21:23 EDT

Can Concussions Lead To Alzheimer’s?

December 27, 2013
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Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Over the past few years, neurologists have been increasingly looking into the impact that repeated concussions have on the long-term health of the brain, and a new study published on Thursday in the journal Neurology has found a lengthy concussion history involving at least a momentary loss of consciousness may lead to the accumulation of Alzheimer’s-associated plaques in the brain.

“Interestingly, in people with a history of concussion, a difference in the amount of brain plaques was found only in those with memory and thinking problems, not in those who were cognitively normal,” said study author Michelle Mielke, a health sciences researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

The study included nearly 450 people without memory problems and over 140 people with mild cognitive impairment. Study volunteers, who were all at least 70 years of age, were asked if they had ever suffered a brain injury that involved any loss of consciousness or memory.

Seventeen percent of the participants without cognitive problems said they had a brain injury and 18 percent of those with cognitive issues reported a significant head trauma.

Participants also underwent brain scans, which did not reveal any physiological differences among those without cognitive impairments, whether or not they had suffered a head trauma. However, among those with cognitive impairments and a history of head trauma – study researchers saw levels of amyloid plaques that were an average of 18 percent higher in those with a concussion history.

“Our results add merit to the idea that concussion and Alzheimer’s disease brain pathology may be related,” Mielke said. “However, the fact that we did not find a relationship in those without memory and thinking problems suggests that any association between head trauma and amyloid is complex.”

While medical research around concussions continues to unfold, those involved in football at various levels aren’t waiting around to see a definitive connection between head trauma and cognitive difficulties.

Last week, the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS) announced a partnership with USA football to increase player safety by endorsing USA Football’s Heads Up Football program.

The endorsement comes after the National Institutes of Health and the National Football League revealed earlier this week they would be collaborating to learn more about the effects of traumatic brain injuries.

“Athlete safety is advanced through education, and that is the heart of USA Football’s Heads Up Football program,” said John Norwig, president of PFATS. “Education converts awareness into action. This program is establishing needed standards and behavior modification built upon the best medical science and research. Young athletes deserve this level of commitment. We are proud to endorse it.”

The trainers’ association announcement comes as approximately 600,000 youth football players in America registered for Heads Up Football in 2013. The health and safety program offers coach certification, instruction on safe tackling techniques, concussion recognition training and proper equipment fitting instruction. It is scheduled to be tested on the high school level this fall in 35 schools across 10 states.

Source: Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online