July 19, 2011

Dementia Risk Twice As Likely For Veteran’s With Head Injury

Two new studies "“ one involving veterans and the other retired football players "“ have found that head injuries increase the risk of dementia later in life.

The findings were presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Paris on Monday.

Veterans who have suffered anything from a concussion to a severe head wound were found to be more than twice as likely to develop dementia, compared to those with no brain injury, researchers reported.

Results from the retired football player study revealed that 35% of former National Football League players are diagnosed with signs of dementia. This is a significant finding because the general population has a 13% rate of Alzheimer's.

In the veteran study, researchers reviewed medical records of 281,540 veterans ages 55 and older, spanning over a seven year period. According to researchers, the dementia risk was 15.3% among U.S. veterans who had suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI). That's compared to 6.8% of veterans who did not sustain any head trauma.

"This issue is important because TBI is very common," said lead researcher of the veteran study Kristine Yaffe, who is the director of the Memory Disorders Program at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.

Chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer's Association William Thies told Bloomberg reporter Albertina Torsoli: "It's pretty conclusive that there is an association between serious head injury and dementia.

What we can anticipate is that in all those soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, 20 years from now we are going to see a big increase in the amount of Alzheimer's that's going to develop."

For the football player study, researchers followed up on a survey conducted in 2001 of about 4,000 retired NFL players. The new surveys were sent out to the 905 players who were over 50 years of age in 2008.

From those who responded to the second survey, questions concerning the players' memory and cognition were completed by their wives.

"We were surprised that 35 percent of the [players] appeared to have significant cognitive problems," lead researcher of the new study Dr. Christopher Randolph at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago, told the Associated Press.

Results from the two new studies add to the mounting evidence that head injuries, even concussions, can lead to severe consequences years into the future, says Dr. Gary Small, who is the director of the University of California, Los Angeles, Longevity Center and author of the book, "The Alzheimer's Prevention Program."

According to MSNBC.com, scientists believe that with every hit to the head, axons, or the brain's communication cables, are being stretched to the point of damaging its inner structure.

Further, previous studies have found that damaged axons release proteins that lead to plaques and tangles in the brain that are known to cause dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Bloomberg reports that more than 5 million Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. According to the Alzheimer's association, the disease disrupts memory, learning and mental function. The organization estimates that by 2050, the number of Alzheimer's patients will increase to about 16 million Americans.


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